There were few hot dogs in Bend, Oregon on the Fourth of July. And that was unusual! Know that I’m not speaking of the ‘hot dogs’ served on a bun, but the four-legged variety; the canine companions who so enrich our lives. That’s because dogs, along with cats, snakes, lizards, ponies and pigs were, after all, the focus of Bend’s traditional Fourth of July Pet Parade. And there were many of them!
Thousands-yes thousands-lined the streets of this high desert town in central Oregon. There were so many that some spectators climbed onto rooftops of local businesses for a better view. I enjoyed waving to them as I walked one of our friends’ two dogs. My Siberian Husky Roger had just succumbed to cancer five weeks earlier. It was good to get some ‘dog time’.
Not only were temperatures comfortably moderate in this high desert town in central Oregon...so too were the moods of the diverse crowd of people and animals gathered on the Fourth. Bend encompasses an area marked by political and cultural diversity; yet on this day, there was little in the way of slogans or posturing. Perhaps the humans were inspired by the ‘other’ participants. Pets of different sizes, shapes, colors and even biological families walked, trotted, slithered or were carried shoulder to shoulder, nose to nose, scale to scale, with a notable lack of confrontation.
Were there cautious or curious looks directed by one participant toward another? Of course there were! But there was no refusal to share the parade or even the treats offered, no assertion that those who looked different didn’t ‘belong’; that the retrievers should return to Labrador, the huskies to Siberia, the poodles to France (actually Germany) or the Chihuahuas to Mexico. And that led me to consider the nature of two words often associated with the Fourth of July holiday. Freedom. Independence.
Freedom can be viewed in line with the popular advertising slogan to ‘just do it’, though it extends well beyond the focus on athletic performance intended by the originator of that slogan. Independence? The removal of constraints or obligations. Of course the exact interpretation of these words will vary from one person to another. A parent will interpret these words differently than a child. So will someone responding to the need of a neighbor, or perhaps moved by the plight of another through a chance encounter. Beyond that, are there deeper meanings that would be useful to consider? Could such meanings offer a more enduring sense of fulfillment, a better means of coping with the flood of changes and stress in 21st century America?
Perhaps the words ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ are most constructively understood when linked with another word-‘wholeness’; wholeness that isn’t defined by a sense of separateness or simple ego gratification, but of identifying what contributes to our becoming all that we’re capable of being. Of freedom and independence from habits and impulses that reduce our dignity, of reaching our potential. So perhaps with this celebration of the Fourth still in memory, we can ask ourselves a few questions-what could ‘wholeness’ mean for me? What would it look or feel like? What habits or attitudes hold me back?
When we’re moving toward such wholeness, our sense of stress decreases. As my friend Carl Arico says, ‘the issues are in the tissues’; that is, our bodies sense when we’re living and moving toward our highest purpose…toward wholeness…and when we’re not. They also sense when we’re holding others back from being whole. When we reduce the dignity and limit the potential of others to become whole, we reduce our own. Our bodies recognize what our minds won’t consciously admit.
After all, the Preamble of the Constitution, the document that was the culmination of the dreams, the events and sacrifices we celebrate on the Fourth of July, began by stating…”We the People of the United States”, not “Me the People” and “in order to form a more perfect Union”. The framers recognized that community and connection lead to wholeness, “a more perfect Union”. Working to bring wholeness into our lives, and in others…will do just that. The participants in the Bend pet parade lived that. We can too.