Scout had difficult memories of her growing up years. Her sister and brother puppies made fun of her because of her gimp leg, the way her front left foot turned in. Because of it, she was always the last to get food, the last to go outside for a frisky romp in the back yard, and the last to be picked when the grown ups chose puppies. She couldn’t wag her tail because that would be a lie. Tail wagging equaled joy, and she had none of that.
Her parents didn’t seem to worry much about her lack of wagging. They were neither kind nor mean to Scout, but when Stubby, the runt of the litter, got picked up by someone named Ashley, at least Scout could have her parents all to herself. Only they seemed to feel they’d done their parental duty and pretended as if Scout didn’t exist.
Scout learned to fend for herself. How to find food under the corner of cabinets, how to stay near the door when the Johnson family let her parents out, how to look as cute as possible when potential owners stopped by to look at her. But even then, she dared not wag her tail. What was there to be joyful about?
“She’s gimpy,” Mr. Johnson said. “She’s more of a liability than a blessing, this one. You can have her for free.”
The elderly man, grayed and wrinkled, bent as low as he could and patted Scout’s eager head. “No, she’s worth something. I can see it in her eyes. She’s a fighter.” He fumbled through his pockets and produced a handful of bills.
Mr. Johnson’s eyes registered surprise, but he took the money and opened the door for the last time. Scout turned behind her to see if her parents had any parting words of wisdom as they had for the other puppies. But no. Preoccupied with a new rubber toy, they tussled with each other, not bothering to notice Scout’s absence.
The man, George, loved Scout. He nearly loved all her memories away.
In fact, Scout nearly forgot the sadness, the teasing, the neglect until Bally came to live with them–a boy dog who eyed Scout with similar affection. Bally and Scout began their life together. Inevitably Scout would have puppies, but she feared what would happen. Would she be able to protect the weak ones from the strong? Would she ignore some of them?
The worry brought all the memories back in a rush of fear. But as nature had its way, and Scout’s belly grew ripe with puppies, the inevitability of it all niggling her.
With the birth of each puppy, Scout and Bally licked them to life. All were perfect except for the smallest boy whose right back paw inched inward, so much like Scout’s that she gasped when she saw it. It was her fault, she knew. Another puppy would come into the world with the pain she’d experienced.
It’s then that she started berating herself, under her dog breath. “You’re no good. It’s your fault. You have failed, again.”
When Bally heard this, he gentled her. “No, Scout, don’t say that. It hurts me when you’re mean to yourself.”
Scout heard the words, but couldn’t believe them. Her brothers and sisters and her parents all proved she’d been faulty from the beginning. No matter what her owner George said, despite the affection from her puppies, regardless of Bally’s kind ways, she could not feel good about herself. She had lost the instinct to wag her tail long ago, but now it seemed impossible.
She did everything she could to assure little Sully that he was loved. She scolded the others when they teased, and she paid special attention to Sully as best she could. Still, pain came to Sully in ways Scout couldn’t prevent. Which then made her bark those words to herself again, “You’re no good. It’s your fault. You have failed, again.”
When Sully was the last puppy to be picked, Scout wept big dog tears. She knew that if she hadn’t been Sully’s mother, that he would’ve had a limp-free life. And now? He was destined to become sad and haunted like her.
When another couple left, shaking heads at Sully’s interned paw, Scout again howled, “You’re no good. It’s your fault. You have failed again.”
This time Sully looked at Scout, puppy tears in his eyes. “Mama,” he said. “You are the perfect Mama for me. Because you understand what it’s like to be different. It hurts me when you hurt yourself like that. I’ll only be happy if you can find a way to be happy too.”
Scout listened. Bally sat next to her, still. She could feel his breath, his presence near. Even George stood nearby, though he couldn’t understand their language. His smiling eyes said love.
“You are good,” Sully said. “So very good. You love well.” Sully nestled in closer. “It’s not your fault my leg’s the way it is. Actually, I see it as a gift.” With that Sully did a crooked, joyful dance before his parents, tail chasing, tongue flapping, paw useless. “I’m proud of how I look because I remind me of you, Mama. All you’ve endured. How strong you are.” His tailed wagged like a hummingbird’s wings, beating the air with joy.
Scout felt his wag way down deep. Her tail wiggled just a hint.
“You’ll have failed if you let your limp mess with the rest of your life, Mama,” Sully yelped. “See it instead as a mark of grace, something God gave you to lean on Him more.” Sully twirled again, tail in hyperactive wagging.
The very next day, a young girl knelt low, scruffing Sully’s ears. “You’re perfect,” she said. “I’ll take you.”
Though Scout agonized as Sully looked behind him, though she charged at the door, licking his face one last time, she knew Sully had been a beautiful gift, a reminder that we all limp, in a way, and that the best gift we can give others is not the hauntings of the past, but our halleluias in the present.
Scout stood taller, then. For the sake of Bally, of the new puppies they’d have together, and the kind-eyed George, Scout learned to wag. And smile. And laugh.
I wrote this story for those of you who struggle to be set free from the past. Did you know that your pain, especially when you nurse it or let it define you, hurts others? If you feel it’s selfish to heal for your own sake, choose to heal and be set free for their sake. Those you love need tail-wagging you.
Click to tweet this: “Scout and Sully, a Parable of Healing, helped me see healing in a new light.”