The unmistakable smell started wafting through the kitchen. That was the first sign. Having been down this smelly road once before, my wife and I knew exactly what had transpired. Delilah, our nearly 16-year-old lab/husky mix who loves to lounge outside on chilly evenings, had just been sprayed by a skunk.
We quickly brought her inside and up to our second floor bathroom with the walk-in shower. Holding our noses while Googling the correct ratio of dish soap, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide (Rats! We’re out of peroxide! Substitute with vinegar!), I found myself stripped down and lathering up a wet, smelly, shell-shocked dog. So much for a relaxing Sunday evening after a long day.
While Delilah didn’t exactly enjoy the process, she tolerated it. Mostly, I think she just realized she needed help and couldn’t deal with this alone. At least that was my human projection as she stoically stood in the shower, enduring the frantic machinations around her. If the odor was offensive to my own nostrils, I can’t imagine what it’s like for a dog whose sense of smell is at least 100 times more sensitive than my own.
For non-dogs like you and me, admitting we need help is challenging. After all, we’re taught to be independent and self-sufficiency is held up as a grand American virtue. Yet there are times in our lives when we, like Delilah, simply can’t do it alone; moments when we need help and must rely on others.
This is a natural part of the aging process, of course. There’s a whole sector of the healthcare industry dedicated to this very task. It’s right there in the name “assisted living” facility. But many experience what it means to need help long before that stage of life. Like when we’re down with a bad case of the flu and a neighbor brings over some chicken soup or following a surgery when a nurse helps you out of bed or when you’re suffering from inconsolable grief and a friend stops in to sit with you.
We can’t always do everything by ourselves and recognizing our need to accept help from others is part of what it means to be human. Most of us would much rather helpo thers than accept help from others. It’s hard to admit when we can’t get by through our own merits and by our own sheer will. Yet needing and accepting help isn’t admitting weakness, it’s simply admitting our humanity.
From a faith perspective, awareness of the divine presence reminds us that, in the end, nothing we do or accomplish is without God’s help. That helps eliminate the hubris that we’re fully in charge of our lives - we can fool ourselves only until we actually need help, at which point the house of cards comes crashing down around us.
The other side of this is that no matter the darkness of the particular situation we’re facing or the seemingly helpless place in which we find ourselves, God is present with us through it all. And there’s both great freedom and comfort in this.
I’m not sure what Delilah was feeling as we scrubbed and rinsed her over and over again. But I do hope the next time you find yourself in need of help, you accept it as willingly as Delilah. It’s not always easy, but it’s the only way we can collectively make it through this mortal life.
Oh, and apparently it’s skunk mating season. A neighbor up the street also had a dog sprayed by a skunk the same night. I’m not sure if it was by the same “Pepe Le Pew” that hit Delilah, but I wish him well in his romantic endeavors. Just please leave Delilah and the other neighborhood dogs out of it next time. They’re just not that into you.
The Rev. Tim Schenck is an Episcopal priest at St. John’s Church in Hingham, MA. This article is excerpted from his newly released book “Holy Grounds: The Surprising Connection between Coffee and Faith - From Dancing Goats to Satan’s Drink.” “Holy Grounds” is available on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2IdFp91. Follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.