The sun was low in the sky and to my back. I lay on the ground, looking up at the clouds and turning them into all sorts of things. One looked very much like a turtle. One like a smiley face, since it had two holes where the blue peaked through, giving it eyes, and another opening that really did look surprisingly like a grin on a child’s face. One of the clouds looked a little like an old school teacher I’d had who wore her hair piled high on her head in a beehive style. Boy, did that thought give way to pondering where time has gone.
Suddenly, I heard a branch crack behind me. Now, I’m not normally skiddish, but this cracking sound was loud enough that I knew it must have been more than just the normal activity of birds or squirrels in the bushes. And, since I was in my own back yard, with a fence around the perimeter, there shouldn’t have been any other creatures – human or otherwise – setting foot beyond that fence uninvited. I didn’t welcome that sound.
I didn’t sit up immediately, but sort of rolled my head to look toward my left first – and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then I rolled my head toward the right side, and on the ground beside me I saw the shadow of a huge head – not human – but obviously belonging to a beast of a different sort. My heartbeat went into double time, but I just lay there sort of frozen. As I watched, fighting down panic as well as I could, the shadow moved, coming forward and revealing the shoulder area, two legs, and an enormous frame.
I thought about praying, but the words stuck in my throat. I suppose I did manage a silent cry for help, but my primary thought was how to manage rising from my vulnerable position without seeming a threat to said beast and prompting a vicious attack on my person. I contemplated what I had available as a weapon. Well, there was a broken branch or two close by that had blown from a few surrounding trees during a recent windstorm. I glanced again to my left to see if I might be able to reach out for one without actually moving the rest of my body.
As I did so, I felt rather than saw the beast move closer to me. Frantically, I scanned the area to my left, but no branches big enough to provide weaponry. Just small twigs and several old leaves. Not even a big rock. Finally, I decided that I couldn’t just lie there any longer. If I did so, I was obviously going to be dead meat, and just maybe my jumping up quickly would be enough to throw off the beast’s attention and give me time to start running.
Okay. I squeezed my eyes shut and psyched myself to do it, but just as I opened my eyes, the huge shadow suddenly loomed right over my head, and I knew it was hopeless to try to escape. I could hear it breathing in my ear. Then I really did decide to pray, because if this were to be my home-going, I wanted to be ready. I squeezed my eyes shut again, bracing myself for the impact of the attack, when to my greater shock, something sloppy wet took hold of my right ear. The next thing I knew something else cold and wet nudged me in the side of my neck. And then my face was being slathered with slobber from my chin to my temple. What was it doing? Tasting me to see if I merited being eaten?
I put my hand up to try to cover my face, and when I did, this little furry body just sort of threw itself at my hand and started whining and wriggling, trying to get my hand away. Well, the body attacking mine was so much smaller than I had anticipated that I decided I could open my eyes and chance a look. So I opened one eye and squinted between my fingers, which I still had pressed against my face, and what I saw brought me into a sitting position roaring with laughter.
The little yellow lab puppy who was pouncing me and trying to give me a bath in his saliva couldn’t have been more than three or four months old. So this was the beast I’d seen in shadow form? Surely I wasn’t foolish enough to have made a mistake like that. But upon making the effort to sit upright fully and look around me in all directions, I realized that, sure enough, this little pup and I were the sole occupants of my huge back yard. He was little enough he could have squeezed under the fence if he’d had a mind to. And on further reflection, I realized that considering how low in the sky the sun had been, if it had been shining just right on that little fellow’s body, he would have thrown a shadow many times larger than his real size.
I grabbed the little guy and took him onto my lap, giving him a few good scratches behind the ears and a thorough belly rub. While doing so, I thought about how so many of the problems in my life had looked bigger than life and had threatened to destroy me. But, in truth, when I had finally decided to stand up to them and look them square in the eye and recognize them for exactly what they were and nothing more, I had forced them to show their true identity. And when all was said and done, they were always smaller than I was, and I had eventually defeated every one of them.
I determined to make a lasting mental note of my experience that day and to remember the lesson I’d learned from that little fellow with the monster shadow: Never judge a problem – or a puppy – by its fearsome shadow.
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