It is a phrase that my mother is longing to hear. One that my sister dreams I will text her. It barely leaves my mouth without a giggle of excitement.
It was at a block party in Lodi, a small city in the northern portion of the Central Valley where my godparents have lived for some fifteen years. I was just there for the weekend. Needed a break from my apartment and some TLC from people who love me unconditionally. I wasn’t planning on meeting anyone. Wasn’t even planning on the block party. But when I pulled into the driveway there they were next door sipping beers and dipping tortilla chips, munching cookies and telling stories. I was handed a plate with a great big grass-fed steer burger, which I loaded down with red onions, ketchup, romaine lettuce and garden tomatoes. I filled my plate with baked beans, mixed fruit and other sundry potluck items and contentedly took my place beside my super social godmother.
I met the neighbors down the road and the ones across the street, made small talk for a while and started thinking of heading inside. That is when I met Will.
He has sandy blonde hair and shiny dark eyes, a great wide smile and a friendly disposition. Will may not be the brightest mind around the table, but he is certainly one of the bravest. He’s originally from Mexico and has only been in California since January. We connected almost instantly and had a surprising lot in common, despite the fact that Will is a 10-month-old mixed breed and I am a 27-year-old woman.
Will is friendly and open, eager to form new connections and welcome people into his great big canine heart. He looks at you with those beautiful brown eyes like you are the best thing that has ever happened to him, like he would play with you for hours or walk with you for miles without ever getting bored, without ever thinking of leaving. If Will had a cell phone he would call you everyday, just to make sure that you knew that he was there for you. Will is loyal and loving and wants to be loved. But for as many times as he wags his tail and perks up his ears at the presence of a new person, he also falls to the ground and cowers in fear at the sound of too much noise, the sight of a leash, or the shadow of a hand coming too quickly toward his neck.
Will has been abused and doesn’t quite know how to recover. He has put himself out there too many times. Has been neglected too often. Ignored by people who were initially so kind. People he returned to even after they hurt him because that is just the way he is. Will is foolish with his heart and does not quite understand what it means to love or be loved, despite the fact that he is so eager to try. All of this has made Will both excited and terrified at the prospect of new connections.
What Will does not yet understand, what I hope he will come to understand with enough time and experience, is that he now has a Master who loves him unconditionally. Who rescued him from all of the brokenness and abuse and danger of his life. A Master who paid for his vaccinations, purchased his puppy passport, pulled the ticks from his mangy body, and nourished him back to health. This new Master will only lead Will to good places and kind people (though it is up to Will to follow her there). She will not strike or neglect or abandon him. Will not leave him wondering whether or not she is a decent person or sincere in her affections. She has taken him to the best of veterinarians. Has made an effort to ensure he only walks near friendly dogs. Has purchased camel-colored bedsheets to accommodate for his shedding. She has already decided to forgive him unconditionally.
Though Will may continue trying to give his heart to everyone he meets. Though he may continue to cower at the first sign of abuse or neglect. Though it may be a long time before he understands what his Master has done to redeem him, eventually he will know. Eventually he will trust. Eventually he will live with the confidence of being loved.