The Paws That Refreshes

I’ve referred many times to our younger dog as Big Blake, about 85 pounds of rambunctiousness who’s never met a substance that he didn’t try to eat. He’s lively. He’s fun. He’s carefully watched at meal times.

He also, unknown by me until now, has an alternate identity as Doctor Dog.

No joke.

Case in point: I’ve had four gran mal seizures in my life. Blake has witnessed exactly one. But the other night when I sighed loudly in my sleep, my wife Heather saw him get up and place his head over mine, ready in case I started shaking again.

Feeling sore? I’ve had more than one migraine graced by his sudden presence, where he’ll climb up and plant himself on my legs. He’s done the same for Heather during a bad MS attack. Canine acupressure, applied by an expert.

Bad mood? I defy it to survive when you’re suddenly staring at soulful brown eyes. Or, equally likely, being thumped by a vigorous tail.

Doctor Dog is on the scene. And if there’s one thing he knows, it’s that a loving touch refreshes.

It’s a lesson more of us could be reminded of, frankly.

The author Spider Robinson once wrote about the hugs given and received by another science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon. Robinson noted that Sturgeon always graded the hugs he received as either “Letter A’s” or “Number One’s.” After a while, he and the other bystanders realized what Sturgeon was talking about – a Letter A hugger touched at the torso but separated at the waist, like a capital letter A, just leaning in. A Number One hugger gave a full-body hug, top to toe.

Given his own druthers, Sturgeon was a Number One hugger. For him, he told Robinson and the others, all of the senses were just extensions of the sense of touch.

“If you can’t touch with touch,” he said, “you can’t touch with much.”

These days, how much do we touch at all?

Oh, we like. We poke. We friend constantly across a spectrum of social media. But for all our fervent activity, the academics like to point out, most of us don’t generate a lot of cozy friendships.

The most recent study came out of Oxford. In it, Professor Robin Dunbar found that while the typical Facebook user has 150 friends, only 15 were “actual friends” and only five could count as “close friends.” It might just be, Dunbar concluded, that actual friendships needed at least a little face-to-face contact to cement them.

In other words, they need the common touch.

But let’s take a step back. What does face-to-face contact do?

It verifies who you’re talking to.

It grants instant accountability – if you act like a jerk (or like a saint), there can be an immediate reprisal.

And just like with Big Blake cuddling up, there’s a commonality born of proximity. You’re opening yourself up and receiving another who’s chosen to do the same. When all goes well, that can mean comfort and trust and welcome.

But here’s the funny thing. Contrary to the suggestions of Professor Dunbar, that sort of positive touch can happen without ever entering the same room.

In following up on the study, Newsweek talked to a photographer, Tanja Hollander. She visited 600 of her social media connections and found that 95 percent welcomed her in the door instantly. About 75 percent offered her a meal or a place to stay for the night.

That doesn’t really surprise me. I have at least three close friends I’ve never physically met. If I had the chance, mind you, I’d seize it like Von Miller going for a quarterback. But even without ever sharing an atom of space, we all qualify as Number One huggers with each other … we’ve let the other person into our space without holding back, sharing good and bad times alike, being there to comfort and celebrate.

That’s the real measure of a friendship. Whether physical, virtual, or both, the key is the same – be there. Whatever “there” may mean for the space you’re in.

Be the eyes that care. The pressure that comforts. The presence that heals.

Be Doctor Dog.

After all, there’s no better way to build a pack.

Horton Hears an Owww!

There’s a place in your head where your cranium sits,

And it craniates daily without throwing fits,

But sometime last December, my cranium crashed,

Making thinking as hard as a week-old Who-Hash,


There came first a wave,

Pounding hard as it came,

Dimming down all the lights,

Blotting out my own name,

And when the knife-pain came after,

(As knife-pains will do),

I was sure as a Cat with Thing One and Thing Two.


“It’s a migraine!” said I, in a voice mighty quiet.

If you don’t know why quiet, I suggest you should try it.

For a migraine’s a headache scaled up just a few,

To the factor of five hundred seventy-two!


Had it happened but once, well that might be just life,

But I soon found that daily I met with that knife,

And my doctor said “Hmm,” with that doctorly eye,

“Why not come place your head in this fine MRI.”


So it hummed and it thrummed as I lay in the drum,

And I waited to see just what answers would come,

(I also did learn in my lengthy long lying,

I could quote Alice’s Restaurant, without trying!)


And my doctor said “Humm,”

And she asked me to come,

To see what transpired in that rumbly drum.


And I saw there … a spot.

Really, almost a dot.

In the midst of my brain,

Where a dot should be not.


Now a spot can be deadly or nothing at all,

Just a mark of the chalk on your cranium wall,

But as we looked it over, we couldn’t help stewing,

Just what is this dot? What the heck is it doing?



Is it a lesion? A mark of MS?

A tumor that does who-knows-what-can-we-guess?

Or simply a scar from when really-young Scott

Hit his head? (I’m told that this happened a lot.)


I get slightly more anxious

With each passing hour,

I just want to know,

(They say knowledge is power)

As though knowledge would make all my problems go “Poof!”

“Enough with these questions now! Give me some proof!”


For we’ve puzzled and puzzed til our puzzlers were sore,

After all, we declare, that’s what puzzlers are for,

It’s hard to admit, faced with puzzling stuff,

We might never know “all” – we might just know “enough.”


And if we find something that puts down the pain,

All the waving and stabbing and pounding the brain,

I’ll be happy for now, though I’d still like to view,

Just what kind of dotting that dot likes to do.


So we’ll poke and we’ll pry,

Seeing if we can spy,

Things that are so important yet lost to the eye.


And if something be seen,

Be it yellow or green,

Or even some new hue, like blue-red-gra-zine,

I’ll tell every fact and I’ll keep you apprised.

(That’s the value of knowing the newspaper guys.)


But if you have a spot or a dot of your own,

And you’re longing to see more than doctors have shown,

Take comfort, though comfort may hide far from view.

It can still come to me, it can still come to you.


With patience and calm, may we all come to see,

Just “enough” of our needs for a small guarantee,

That somehow our problems may each be turned loose,

Now, farewell – for I’m calling a truce of the Seuss!

The Power of “Yes”

Any time we grumble at gridlock, I can imagine the surprise of the Founding Fathers.

“A government that does nothing at all? Sounds like heaven, sir!”

OK, that might be a bit too strongly worded. After all, the Constitution was created because the old Articles of Confederation had proved impotent. Several founders (though by no means all) had realized the federal government needed more authority to act if the system was going to function at all.

Still, they were suspicious of a government that did too much. They could remember Townshend Acts, Tea Acts, and all the rest. So the Constitution was drawn with a bias toward inaction. A Congress that wanted to do something could be checked by the President and the courts. A Congress that wanted to do nothing… couldn’t really be forced to do otherwise.

Given that, I wonder what they would have made of the popularity of executive orders.

First, a little mythbusting. There’s nothing new or unconstitutional about executive orders themselves. The practice goes back to George Washington and began accelerating after the Civil War, reaching its peak in the first half of the 20th century. FDR was the most ardent practitioner (of course), but presidents Hoover, Taft, Truman, and Teddy Roosevelt were hardly shy of independent presidential action themselves. If anything, modern presidents are more restrained about using that power than those from Roosevelt to Roosevelt.

But it’s still an uncomfortable power to me.

In a government designed to default to “no,” this is the power of “yes.” In itself, that might not sound like a bad thing. We all know the image – and the reality – of a Congress locked in inertia, seemingly unable to agree on the time of day, much less anything of substance. So when a major debate goes nowhere, such as the debate on national gun control, it can be dangerously appealing to do an end run around the whole logjam.

The trouble is, the use of executive power rarely stops with the things you love.

Many people know that I’m a Tolkien fan. (I promise, this is relevant.) Between the novels and the recent immensely popular films, there are few people who aren’t familiar with the plot of “The Lord of the Rings” and its quest to destroy a magic ring to save the world.

What’s less familiar to the casual fan, though, is the nature of the Ring. It did more than just cause a wielder to turn invisible. In the hands of someone with enough power, it would grant a power of command – the ability to reorder the world exactly the way you wanted it, overriding the wills of others to do so.

That was the power that made the Ring so tempting, even to the righteous. Heroes fell, desiring it, even those wise enough to know better. The wisest – Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel – simply shunned it.

“With that power, I should have power too great and terrible,” the wizard Gandalf says. “And over me, the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly. … Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me!”

It’s true that executive orders can and have done good in the past. But they are not guaranteed to do good. What they are guaranteed is to do.

Independent executive action did indeed issue the Emancipation Proclamation. But it also issued the order creating internment camps for Japanese-Americans. Granting freedom, seizing freedom.

The strength and weakness of an executive order is that what one president can do, another can undo. But is that enough of a check? How much can be done in the meantime? How long might something sit before it is undone, by another president, or a dilatory Congress, or the courts?

Democratic friends: Is this a power you would want in the hands of Donald Trump?

Republican friends: Is this a power you would want in the hands of Hillary Clinton?

All friends: Is this a power you want in the hands of absolutely anybody at absolutely any time? Because right now, that’s how it’s potentially entrusted.

I’m not sure how we wind back the clock. I am sure we need to. However desirable the ends may be – and I’ve liked some of the ends a great deal – the means are far too dangerous. The boundaries are too fuzzy, the power too easy.

With this Ring, what have we wed ourselves to?