The Teachings of a
by A. Trevor Sutton
You enter a room and count 18 arms and legs. Nine people are in the room, right? Wrong. You should have said 11 humans and a dog. Two people in the room have all their appendages. Four people are missing one arm. Three people have one leg. Two people have no legs at all. To add to the count, there is a three-legged dog aptly named Lefty. These 12 individuals – with their combined 18 limbs – form an amputee support group.
The monthly meetings address an array of topics pertaining to life as an amputee. Conversations range from cooking with one arm to the latest prosthesis technology. This is a diverse bunch formed by misfortune; the absence of an appendage is really the only tacit bond that these people have. The youngest member is also the newest member. She is a hip 25-year-old former prom queen. A month prior, a drunk driver ran a red light and hit her car. The car door collapsed, pinning her arm against the steering wheel.
The next oldest in the group is a 28-year-old drug addict. He lost his arm to a self-inflicted injury during a bout of depression. His parents rushed him to the hospital – he made it, his left arm did not. The oldest member is a 78-year-old man with diabetes who has struggled with his disease.
The most improbable member of the group is the dog. Lefty is the unspoken mascot of this group – sort of an amputated version of the Mack Truck bulldog. Naturally, the group met the idea of allowing a dog to attend its meetings with caution; this is a serious group, not a Saturday Night Live skit. After the obligatory trial period, Lefty was fully integrated into the group. The group’s attraction to the dog is peculiar. Unwittingly, she is the best teacher for how to live as an amputee. Lefty’s lessons are wholly unintentional and entirely unforgettable.
This is a group intimate with suffering. Members of the group have spent years asking why. Why me? Why now? Why didn’t I just die? Why does God allow this suffering? Then enters this amputee dog: a dog that has no idea whether it has three legs or ten legs. Lefty does not ask why bad things happen to good people. The dog does not know that it is missing a leg; in her world, every dog has three legs. The dog does not ask why – she just gets on with it. In a culture obsessed with fairness and equality, Lefty’s demeanor is laughable. Life has dealt her a bad hand and that is okay with her. The man who tried cutting his own arm off said that he stopped asking why after meeting the dog. If you ask him, he will tell you the same thing every time: motioning skyward with the remainder of his left arm, he will say that the dog helped him to “stop wondering and just let God be God.”
Another weird thing about this dog – she is not stingy with compassion; she will just as readily kiss the prom queen as she will the drug addict. The girl who desperately clung to life in her hospital bed gets the same love as the guy who outright rejected his own life. The night that the former prom queen first joined the group, she told the story of her amputation. Mid story, she broke into tears and nobody in the room knew what to say. In the midst of everyone’s emotional paralysis, the dog walked across the room and sat down in front of the crying girl. The dog heaved her one front paw onto the girl’s shoulder and gave her a slobbery kiss. The tense room melted into sheepish laughter. It was funny, no doubt. Still, everyone in the room could not help but wonder: why did I not think of that? Everyone was a little ashamed that the dog knew what to do while they were frantically thinking about what to say.
After ruminating over the situation for some time, Lefty’s owner (one of the two people in the group with all appendages intact) has realized that the moment taught her about Jesus. She equates the situation to Jesus’ interaction with the crying widow in Nain (Lk 7:11-17). Jesus’ compassion led him to action, not just words. Jesus did something; he did not just say something. Jesus had the ability to raise the widow’s son from the dead. Lefty had the ability to walk across the room and give a slobbery dog kiss. Lefty has taught the group what compassion really is, the kind of compassion that Jesus exudes.
A. Trevor Sutton lives in Michigan.