A Lesson from a Jack Russell


“Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly.”
George Macdonald

I once had a Jack Russell who was the most erratic and energetic dog you could meet. It never sat still for long. It could love you one day, and bite you the next. As much as I deeply love dogs, I never really got along with this one.

I remember one night I was in bed, and while everyone was sleeping, I started crying. I was heartbroken. My dog who was sleeping beside me heard and looked at me in confusion. He then walked over to me and lay down on my chest until I stopped crying. It was one of the most profound and most beautiful moments of my life. I was so stunned that I stopped crying almost immediately. Even though we had trouble getting along, his simple being there was healing for me. There were no words. There was no ‘there there’s’ or ‘it will get better.’ Just pure, unspoken love – from one soul to another.

I feel like humanity has a lot to learn from my little Jack Russell. He taught me that night that presence was one of the most powerful things we can give to another soul. So often in the past when I was troubled, I went to friends for comfort only to be misunderstood, judged or given advice when I didn’t need any. And even though I knew they had the best intentions for me, I went away feeling even lonelier still. I realized that people don’t need to be told what to do. People don’t need advice unless they ask for it. And people don’t need to be told they were wrong. More often than not, when a person’s heart is deeply heartbroken or confused, they need you to simply meet them in their pain.

My best friend does this wonderfully. One afternoon, I came to her house crippled with a depression and loneliness I couldn’t swim out of. I usually keep my tears to myself, but this time I cried in front of her. There were no futile attempts on her part to stop my tears from flowing, nor did she give me any false hope. All she did was stay with me and let me cry. Knowing that I didn’t need to say anything yet still be understood by her was liberating, and like my Jack Russell, she taught me what true friendship was all about.


Those moments have taught me to understand that when someone is struggling and comes to you for help, you don’t need to fill in those silences of sadness with cliches. The truth is that sometimes, things won’t get better for a long time. Sometimes, they won’t fall in love again until 20 years later. Sometimes, time doesn’t heal everything and there are pieces of their heart that will always be missing until they belong to eternity. We don’t need to make up excuses for people’s feelings in hopes that they will feel better. We just need to let them be who they are and feel what they feel – and that’s where the healing is.

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”

My counseling teacher Chris is a person I deeply admire and respect. One thing he has always taught us was the power of empathy and presence. He taught me that empathy is hearing someone more deeply than they have been heard before, and letting it be about them even just for 5 minutes (listening to someone without interrupting even for just a few minutes is hard – just try it!). That people don’t need fixing – they just need to be heard. That presence is a form of intimacy and does not need to say much. Let me say, as someone who has known the liberation of a safe presence and as someone who strives to do the same, that it holds unspeakable healing and beauty. It is such a rare gift.

What my little dog did that night for me was more than some of my friends had done for me. And the thing was, he had no power of speech. The next time someone comes to you in their pain, just be present. There’s no need for a lot of words or cliches. There’s no need for fixing, explaining or controlling. Create a warm presence where they can cry without stopping. Where they unravel themselves to you without fear or apologies. Where they are safe to be standing with their soul in their hands. Meet them there – and I promise the healing will meet you both.

“As you begin to live in the present moment, you will experience a subtle but profound change. Worrying about the future will cease. A deep peace will enfold you, a peace that says, “All is well. There is nothing to fear. Everything is unfolding according to plan and you are being guided each step of the way.”
Douglas Bloch

First image via Julie Song Ink
Second image via Emily Blake