She sat in the second row amidst a noisy gaggle of fourth graders. She was petite and olive-skinned, and her dark eyes measured me as I paced back and forth and pontificated about matter ethereal and authorial. I could tell, from her sharp, sensitive answers to my questions, that stories were seared into her soul, branding her for a calling that perhaps even she did not yet recognize.
After her classmates had exhausted their inquiries about my writing, my age, my dog’s name, and the magical source of all ideas, she quietly raised her hand:
“When you were our age, were you ever lonely?”
I grew up in a book-loving family. Bookshelves oozed over the walls of our home, spreading farther and farther into the unused spaces as the years went by. We went to the library on Saturdays and brought home towers of books. One of the books my mother read aloud to me when I was ten was The Neverending Story, but this was one of those rare occasions when the movie version actually left a deeper imprint on my imagination. It was one of the defining films of my childhood—with its wonderful hint that those stories I was reading in books had an immense and fragile and beautiful reality behind them, and that I was always on the verge of falling into that other world, or seeing it fall into mine.
Three years ago I adopted a gorgeous and hopelessly neurotic Sheltie. The snap of a towel being folded sends her scooting for cover, plastic trash bags are her nemeses, and an errant golf cart blocking the sidewalk can cause the sunshine to shrivel in her eyes. Indeed, going outside at all is a traumatic daily test of her courage and moral fiber. (Not that I blame her; I couldn’t have a private moment while a garbage truck was watching either.)
Our relationship is founded on unwavering devotion and unsentimentally filled with saliva-covered squeaky balls, wet patches on my carpet, and unidentifiable smells. There is a simplicity about it that reaches deep down to the primal core of my human vocation. Sometimes I imagine that at the end of the day my most virtuous acts have been to fill up my dog’s food dish and give her a belly rub. Such moments remind me of the moment when the first couple first stood eye to eye with a tiger and praised its Maker. We sons of Adam and daughters of Eve may have many other callings in a fallen world, but this one still remains: to care for what God has made, what he loves, for which he has plans beyond our imagining.