Last Thursday, I was in a foul mood. There were a combination of factors: I was wrestling with professional inadequacy, while simultaneously feeling utterly useless as a spouse because I’m so limited in the ways that I can support and encourage my husband. Andrew had just come home from a root canal that morning; suffice it to say that nobody in our house was particularly cheerful that afternoon.
Stress crying was getting old, and my storm of emotions was definitely not soothing Andrew’s pains, so I decided to channel my feelings into something more productive. Having just begun an interval training program leading up to a race in October, I decided that a nice, angry walk/jog would calm me down and award me twenty minutes of relative solitude. The plan was to yell at God a whole lot, and maybe sweat myself into peaceful submission.
As usual, God had different plans.
The route started out as expected. In a huff, I forcefully made selections on my phone to open an interval program app, and a beefy, masculine voice counted down to “Go.” The voice always reminds me of one of those melodramatic announcers from monster truck commercials. I rolled my eyes at the voice, and jogged down the street, eager to get out of my neighborhood and the subsequent likelihood of human interaction.
Normally I try to avoid exercising outside in the heat of the afternoon, but in my anger, I hadn’t really considered the temperature. This was an impulse run, after all. As I turned out of my neighborhood, I fell into direct sun exposure, and began shouting at God with added fervor. I neglected to mention the fact that I’d wanted to sweat, and that working hard had been a major motivation for being outside in the first place; I would not give God any praise for being generous, or giving me what I wanted. Not today.
The beefy voice on my phone said “Rest,” and I slowed to a walk, which made me even angrier. Don’t get me wrong—generally speaking, I despise running—but my anger and I didn’t want to slow down. There was something in the effort of grinding my feet into the pavement; it felt like I was making a punching bag out of the path God put me on. A delicious, justified series of jabs.
My selected course for the afternoon was the cemetery to the north of our house—as opposed to the cemetery west of our house. Not a lot of scenery in our area, but when you consider them objectively, there really isn’t much difference between a park and a cemetery. They both have paths, and green space, and some trees, maybe. In fact, the cemeteries have the added benefit of being quiet and mostly abandoned. This was exactly the sort of place that I wanted to be on a day like today.
I continued down the main cemetery road, and turned a corner leading up a steep hill. The voice on my phone said “Go,” and I swore at God again for timing my run interval at this specific point on this specific hill. He could easily have timed this moment to be at the top of the hill, or at least partway up the hill! My stream of thoughts gushed out of me, and I had no interest in leaving space for Him to respond. If I had to write it down (in a censored form, of course), it would probably look something like this:
Even in the midst of my directionless inner monologue, I knew I was being juvenile; but I didn’t care. My feet hit the pavement, over and over again, and with each stride I shouted “WHY?” I ran hard and fast, dreading the inevitable end of each run interval. The voice said, “Rest,” and I reluctantly slowed to a walk. The path rose and fell, and I followed it.
Somewhere in the two minutes between intervals 5 and 6, I started to feel a sense of peace; God didn’t say anything, or depart any mysterious, profound wisdom into my mind. But the path turned back downhill toward home, and something about that did feel profound. Suddenly, I was reminded of the seasonal nature of life, and specifically of Ecclesiastes 3—there is a time to break down, and a time to build up. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to be really freaking angry, and a time to run until you’re not angry more.
I wasn’t even pissed when I saw the family up ahead, closer to the bottom of the hill, impeding my right to cemetery solitude. There were three or four adults, two kids, and two dogs. Their presence didn’t bother me, but I was only part of the way through my recovery workout, after all—so I crossed to the far side of the road in an attempt to avoid them.
My determined pace was much faster than theirs, and I was probably fifteen or twenty feet behind them when the poodle heard me and turned around.
I love dogs more than the average person, I’d wager. If I sit for a few moments and imagine myself holding a puppy in my hands, I will actually start tearing up; it doesn’t take much. Dogs have so much joy, and so much affection to give to others. And best of all, they can’t say anything irritating, or do much to hurt your feelings. They just love you, and love you some more, and maybe lick your face and snuggle with you.
So when I saw this fluffy, white standard poodle, I took it as a personal sign from God that He was holding the reigns and steering my day in a better direction. The dog perked up at the sight of me, and I noticed that she was unleashed. With a swear-to-God smile on her sweet doggy face, she trotted over, and I cooed my typical gushy welcome to her, reaching out to pat her on the head.
Then, in a flash, she bit me in the ass.
A dull pain flared on my left side, and I threw my hands up, some sort of subconscious attempt to communicate to the dog that I meant her no harm. The return of my stress crying hovered dangerously, a wave about to crest, and I did the only thing I could think to do.
“Can you please call your dog?” I managed to half-shout.
The man whipped his head around and called the dog—I don’t remember hearing the dog’s name. I believe he also added something like “Sorry” as the dog trotted back toward him, and I kept my head down, begging the voice on my phone to say “Go” so I could run away.
In the interim, I waited in agony, walking at a brisk pace to try to pass this family as quickly as possible. Keeping my head down, I pressed my sunglasses into my face, as if they weren’t already masking my puffy eyes. To my horror, I actually said “Thank you” as I passed them and turned the corner up the main road. As in, “Thank you for not keeping your dog on a leash, and letting it bite me, and then graciously calling the dog back after I asked you to because you were completely unaware of your dog’s behavior. Really, it means a lot. So thanks bunches.”
As I passed them, I saw the second dog start to come toward me slowly, this one a lab mix. One of the children called, “He nibbles, just so you know!” Oh, how I wish I’d thought of something clever to say in response—what a tragic opportunity to pass by. Instead, the voice on my phone said “Go,” and I ran as hard as I could, tears streaming down my face.
I sprinted up the hill of the main cemetery road, groaning over the vast distance between me and the protection of my home. My stream of anger resumed, and I swore at God for ruining a perfectly good moment of hard-earned, sweaty peace. Why did He have to send a poodle, anyway? What good was there in having a poodle bite me, in the exact moment when I was finally feeling better?
My skin throbbed and I ran harder, nearly chucking my phone over a fence when the voice said “Rest.” As I trudged on, I managed to be darkly grateful that I had run in the cemetery, and that I wouldn’t encounter anyone else on the way home.
That’s when I noticed the line of cars up ahead.
In the 10 minutes that I’d been in the back portion of the cemetery, a crowd had gathered for a funeral in the frontmost section, a space dedicated exclusively to eternal care for individuals of Muslim faith. So I cried and trudged and stared at my feet as I walked by a bunch of Muslims, on their way to bury someone they loved. The sheer injustice of the quantity of people that I had to walk past fueled my anger, and I attacked the pavement, sprinting through my final interval.
Mercifully, I managed to avoid any other interactions—canine, individual, or mass—on the way home. Our neighbor Gary was outside across the street; being one of the most friendly and talkative neighbors, I cut across the lawn to avoid him, and shut the door quickly behind me.
Kicking off my tennis shoes, I walked down the hall to the bathroom and examined my bite in the bathroom mirror. I swore out loud, seeing the scratches, and feeling the tenderness of my skin—it would definitely bruise spectacularly. This visual confirmation of the entire incident launched me into a full spiral of distress; I sobbed, choking out a choppy version of the tale to a confused and concerned Andrew.
I drank some water, and tried to calm down. He held me for awhile and I cried some more. Eventually, I sat on the floor and tried to stretch my screaming muscles. With a careful tone, Andrew asked if there was anything we needed to do, like try to track down the family who owned the poodle-in-question. “No, no,” I assured him. I didn’t want to make a fuss.
Then I remembered rabies, and immediately opened my laptop to Google “how do I know if I’m at risk for rabies from a dog bite.” Because of course, serious moments of distress are an appropriate and wise moment to turn to Google for answers, especially when you have anxiety.
Now at this point, I think it’s important for me to mention that I’d never been bit by a dog before—at least not a stranger’s dog. I’d never been attacked or approached by a dog in a way that felt even remotely threatening. From dogs, I had only ever known snuggles and kisses. So the rabies concern had never even crossed my mind until I was sitting on my living room floor, miles away from the poodle that bit me.
Andrew, ever-patient, watched me as the realization began to grow in my mind, and minor panic ensued. He asked again if there was anything we needed to do, and I told him that we had no way of tracking the family down, or verifying that the dog was up to date on its shots. One completely unreliable Q&A forum on Google said that people almost always die from rabies, and that’s when I decided I needed an expert opinion.
We don’t know very many people in the medical industry, so I texted a friend who is a zookeeper —arguably, someone more familiar with rabies and animal bites than a doctor. I stared at my phone, waiting for her to respond, answering her questions with record-setting speed.
There I was, laying on my living room floor, texting a zookeeper to see if she knew anything about rabies and whether or not I needed to get a vaccine—because I had been stress crying, and running in a cemetery, and a poodle bit me in the butt. And then I cried and ran past a Muslim funeral to get home.
I looked over at Andrew, and couldn’t help but smile. It was all too ridiculous to take seriously, as much as I wanted to stay angry. We laughed, and eventually my zookeeper friend assured me that I was not at risk for rabies.
It was all smooth sailing from there. We decided that the trauma of my poodle attack warranted a special treat, and we made Pinterest-worthy deep-dish ramekin cookies in the toaster oven. Andrew even made a special trip to the grocery store to buy ice cream, because he is the world’s most wonderful human being and husband.
Sometimes God sends a hopefully-not-rabies-carrying poodle, when I ask for peace. Because bizarrely, God knows that there is peace to be had on the other side of that poodle biting me. It doesn't make sense to me at all, but I suppose that's the point. It's not supposed to: God is god, and I am just limited little me.
If you find yourself in a moment when a poodle has bitten you in the backside, take comfort in the fact that God hears us and responds to our needs…if not always in the expected way.