Freedom and Sacrifice: the Holy Surrender of Pet Parenting

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Monday marks the first night of Passover, the anniversary of that fateful night some 3,300 years ago when a beleaguered Pharaoh “freed” the Jews of Egypt. This Holy Day will be book-ended next Sunday by Easter, the anniversary of Christ’s ascension to heaven - after revealing himself to a few select earthly folk.

What does any of this have to do with pet parenting?

Please indulge me for a few moments.

Long before Pharaoh cried uncle to a host of plagues - including the boomerang bonk upon the heads of Egypt’s first born - we Jews dreamed of “freedom.” Having only folklore to draw upon, this word was but an abstract concept to us.

In the end, “freedom” was not so much about Moses opening the gates to the Sinai desert as it was surrendering to the reality that we had become guardians of our fate. Pretty scary stuff for slaves who knew no other life. The problem was that the questions far outnumbered the answers. Some of us didn’t believe the answers (The 10 Commandments) even after they were given to us. The result was an orgy of sorrow and a 40-year trek across sand - with no beach in sight.

About 1,300 years later, the One that many of my Christian friends consider to be the Ultimate Rabbi found himself scorned and excoriated for his belief that freedom’s true currency was love; the only way to “get” more was to give more.

Of course, the Roman and Pharisees establishment was too threatened by anything short of total deference (and anything other than hard currency), so the Rabbi paid the ultimate sacrifice. From then on, his followers disagreed not only about the essence of the Rabbi’s message, but on how the very Rabbi they worshipped came into being. Families split, communities insulated themselves and people killed other people for not sharing their “truth” about the Rabbi and his message.

What you believe (and how you adhere to it) is not the point. Like it or not, we humans continue to wrestle with what freedom and sacrifice really mean. These wrestling matches can lead us down dark paths that can twist our values, as events over the past century can especially attest. For some people, “freedom” means total dominion over others - including our four-legged friends. Others have come to know freedom as the joy of learning how to let another being love them the way it can, not how they think it should.

I believe that the only way we can be responsible pet parents is to surrender to the idea that true freedom equals sacrifice. Loving an animal companion (and a person, for that matter) requires an immense investment of time as well as physical, emotional and spiritual resources. It means loving them with all your heart by being present for them in every possible way. By way of this “sacrifice,” we surrender our lives to unconditional love.

Now if that ain’t freedom, I don’t know what is.