By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published July 17, 2008
There are very few things left from my childhood. No favorite books, no trinkets, no furniture. Just an old stuffed Pluto dog named Poppa.
When he was brand new, Poppa had silky golden fur and flashing black eyes, but today he is completely bald and he bears the scars of many childhood skirmishes with my sister. Beheaded in an early battle, he had his neck lovingly repaired by my mom, who used black embroidery thread to mend him.
As a child, I slept every night with Poppa and toted him along wherever I went. One aunt predicted I would surely carry that dog down the aisle when I married, and she wasn’t too far from the mark. Although he was not in church that day, he was tucked away in my suitcase, and he has accompanied my husband and me on various moves during the 26 years of our marriage.
Today he perches in the rocking chair in my study, along with an assortment of other fuzzy beasts that friends have given me over the years: a pig, a cat, a moose, a turtle and a rather dapper stuffed chicken.
When my goddaughter comes over to have lunch with me, we often play with the animals. She usually chooses the chicken, moose and turtle as her favorites. Maybe because Poppa doesn’t look very appealing, he rarely has been carried into the living room to join our impromptu skits featuring stuffed animals.
Recently, though, as she selected animals from the chair, I picked up Poppa and gave him an affectionate squeeze. She shot him a curious glance, no doubt taking in his baldness, his stitches and his many scars.
“What happened to him?” she asked.
I explained that he was very old and had survived numerous fights between my sister and me when we were children.
To my great joy, she decided to include the old dog in our games that day. And before long, she had declared Poppa a wise old pooch and even invented a voice for him with a rather posh British accent.
I thought about Jesus telling the disciples that things hidden from wise people were often revealed to the little ones. It seems my goddaughter already has learned one of Jesus’ great lessons about love. He admonished his friends to love one another as he had loved them—which certainly must mean overlooking flaws and scars.
Later, I remembered a lady I used to visit back in the days when I took holy Communion to shut-ins. She was in good health when I first met her, living alone in an apartment in Clairmont Oaks in Decatur, but she was lonely.
She didn’t have a car, so I would sometimes take her out shopping and then to lunch at the Piccadilly Cafeteria. It touched me to realize how grateful she was for the simplest outings.
In some ways, she reminded me of Poppa Pluto. Oh, I don’t mean just because she was old, but also because it seemed the world had forgotten about her. Like so many people in their 80s, she had many wrinkles and she would never again have the spring in her step of a woman in her 40s.
At heart, she was an intelligent woman who loved to share funny stories about her younger days. Still, most people looking at her might see just another old woman, someone who had to lean on a walker and who, with the passing years, would fall into more serious decline.
We are definitely a society that worships youth. There is a magazine that is supposedly targeted to older women—and by that, the editors mean women over 40—but, in fact, the photos depict women who look many years younger.
The articles tout women who have had face lifts, tummy tucks and other surgical procedures to avoid being described by that very scary description “looking your age.”
Poppa Pluto obviously looks his age, and then some, and he was just sitting there unnoticed until a little girl invited him to become part of the fun. In the process she gave him his own unique voice.
Maybe it wasn’t a young and thriving voice, but it seems the old boy still had a few things to say.
And I have to wonder how many of the elderly, tucked away behind closed doors, are just waiting for an invitation. Just yearning for someone to uncover their special voices too.
Fortunately, the love Jesus has for us doesn’t hinge on our looks. We needn’t try to look years younger for him to cherish us. And despite what magazines might claim, true joy doesn’t come from trying to banish signs of wear and tear.
Joy comes from befriending others. It comes from loving them as they are—wrinkles and walkers and all.
It is a very simple lesson, really. No wonder it takes a little child to teach it.
Artwork featured in the print edition by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com). Lorraine’s latest book is “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist” (Ignatius Press). She and her husband, Jef, are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.