To be useful … to make some difference.

“The purpose of life is to be useful, to be compassionate … to have it make some difference that you have lived.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is day 83 of Indy with diabetes. Indy is the Rottweiler-Shepherd mixed-breed dog who became a member of my family almost two years ago, at the age of 8. Other than the diabetes, his health has been quite good. But this morning I had to give him his 165th shot of insulin. And, somehow, I think he knows. Although it would be impossible for him to truly understand the need for insulin, I believe he senses that we are now living with a new kind of dependence between us.

He has caused me to suspect this instinctive understanding on his part in a rather unusual way. It started recently when we were walking in the horse district, a favorite place of ours. As a horse and rider approached, Indy came and stood by my side, as he has been taught to do. But then he leaned in, across my legs, in a very protective sort of stance.

I have impressed upon Indy the importance of coming to my side whenever a horse nears us. He is to stand quietly next to me, letting the horse and rider pass. And he is free to move on only after I tell him “good job,” and pat his side. We’ve developed this routine in the horse district especially because it’s impossible to know which horses are comfortable with dogs and which ones might become spooked. So our standard procedure is to expect them to want us to wait by the side of the road until they have passed. Indy picked up this behavior very quickly and is extremely good at conforming to it.

But for the past few weeks, I began noticing that he had incorporated his own added bit to it – leaning in, extending his body across the front of my legs. And I finally realized what it meant. Somehow, he has decided that it is I who needs to be protected from the horse and rider. He is there to take care of me – not simply to exhibit obedience.

He has always assumed this protective stance whenever we are confronted by a stranger, or in any “unsure” situation. I never trained him to do it. It seems to be intuitive with him. And he’s quite gentlemanly about it, never aggressive to the stranger. But he makes sure he is positioned solidly between me and the “unknown.” And I do appreciate the loving gesture.

His applying it to the horse district walks is relatively new, however. In thinking back, it seems to align in time with when his insulin shots began.

Something in me wonders if he somehow knows that I am taking an extra bit of care of him right now … and he is simply trying to return the favor. Perhaps he has become even more sensitive to the give-and-take in love and relationships, the respect and responsibility necessary between all living creatures.

Perhaps he knows the wisdom that we are all here to take care of one another in some manner. And that we are never more connected than when we are doing just that.

I suspect he may also be teaching me that sometimes we just have to find a way to help make life easier for someone – whether they know they need it or not. To make some difference because we lived.