Lessons from Ruby

By Paul Koch

Ruby is our insanely energetic brindle boxer. Though she is not a puppy anymore, she hasn’t slowed down all that much from those first days after we brought her home. These days, she is as much a part of our family as any of our five children and has learned her place among the pack. She loves her massive collection of tennis balls and going for walks around the block or hikes in the foothills. She loves sitting in that sunny spot on the floor in the morning, and she loves to clean up under the table after a meal. But more than anything else, she loves this family. She loves her adoptive pack more than anything else in her world. In fact, our family is her world.

In many ways, she is a living reminder in our family of what it means to be part of a family. Whether that family is by blood, choice, or circumstance, they are more valuable than anything outside the pack. Within the pack, there is life, security, and strength; everything outside is unknown and therefore a possible threat. Now, Ruby sees it as her role to stand on that division between what is inside and what is out. She is always keeping watch, always alert.

We first noticed how incredibly deep her desire to keep watch runs when we took her on her first family camping trip. As the sun went down and we gathered around the fire to tell stories, play games, and roast marshmallows, Ruby sat with her back to the family. With no interest in the fire or the dropped graham cracker pieces, she faced always outside the circle, staring off into the darkness. Gathered around the fire was her pack—this she knew—but off in the woods was the unknown. No matter how much we tried to soothe her and get her to relax, she wouldn’t relent from her sentry post. She knew by instinct what Kipling observed when he wrote,

The strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

In a strange way, this dog serves as a constant reminder of how to live as a family, a tribe, even a people of God. We are bound to one another, as St. Paul says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, through many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). We are baptized into Christ’s body and so baptized into the family, the tribe, the pack that we run with. Within this pack is life, strength, and endurance; outside is the unknown. Outside are the dangers for which we must always keep watch.

The gift of faith is never prized as a gift lived out in isolation from others. Our strength is found in our fellowship. The manifold blessings of God are rooted in the vocations of the men and women around you. They are the care and the protection of God. Their mouths speak the words of hope and forgiveness into your ears.

When facing the darkness outside we must be diligent, we must keep the watch and defend the pack. But when it comes to the struggles within our fellowship, let us not treat them as outsiders but with love, compassion, and charity. Speak the truth in love, for this is your pack, your body, your family. And just as they need you, so you need them.