The little puppy was lost and confused in the middle of the intersection. It was a bitter morning a few days before Christmas. I was still shivering from the brief time I stood outside scraping off my windshield and I wondered how long the dog had been wandering in the cold. Still, I was on a schedule. I had to get my kids and their friends to our church's annual Christmas pageant, which my wife was directing. "I hope its owners find it," I offered weakly, and started to drive away.
"Stop the car!" came a chorus of young voices. My daughter was going to get out and cautiously approach the dog to see if it had a collar or anything to identify its ownership, but when she opened the door the friendly pup leapt into the car and into her lap. No collar. So we brought a guest to church that morning. Now my wife is one of the most easygoing people you will ever meet, some would even say unflappable. But I wish you could have seen her face that morning as I walked into a roomful of giggly bath-robed shepherds and wise men carrying a stray dog. It was a mixture of astonishment, incomprehensibility, and "this does not compute." So while shepherds watched their flocks, and wise men followed a star, I sat in the church office with the stray.
After the pageant was finished, my kids, their friends, and I printed up some posters and fanned out around the general neighborhood where we found the dog earlier. It didn't take too long to reunite a thankful owner and "Chi-Chi" as we learned she was called. (Chi-Chi had made a break for it when her owner opened the garage door to get the snow blower out.) It was a happy ending and a good memory.
How differently things would have gone had I stuck to the clock and my agenda. Because actions speak louder than words, I would have taught my kids and their friends that one's plans matter more than helping out. They would have been robbed of the good feeling that came from getting Chi-Chi back home to her family. It also served as a good reminder to me that I can't turn compassion on and off depending on how convenient it is to my schedule. It is the first thing to get tossed when I am too preoccupied-and that is not the person I want to be.
Ian Eastman, M.A., is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.