My dad went to a small Christian university in Missouri. It was oppressive to say the least. No dating, no rock music, no long hair, no movies, no radios, and another long list of legalistic “no's” dominate the life of the students. They were enforced by a corrupt system of demerits that directly corresponded with cleaning duties to be carried out as petty punishments for breaking these rules.
One of the more notably silly rules they had was a “lusting rule," where a male student could be given a demerit for looking at a girl for more than three seconds. I know, absolutely insane.
During this time, my dad was at a low, and when I say low I mean the lowest of lows. All his friends from the previous year had moved away, his family was two states away and had not talked to him in months, his grades were suffering due to a hectic work schedule, and he didn’t have a girlfriend. From my dad’s perspective, he was alone.
By the time winter rolled around my dad had reached the nadir of this valley. His stark dorm room was made of hard concrete blocks and smelled of dusty mold. He needed to get out. He needed to distract himself from his own isolation and deepening grades. So, he ran. Not from his problems, but around the campus. This was an obvious breaking of one of the “no's” - running past a certain time was not allowed, but it was three in the morning and my dad did not care.
My dad described this run as silent and full of whiteness. He described a blank white sheet of snow that covered all the manicured lawns. The only thing that broke the silence was the slight hum of the street lamps that punched holes in the darkness.
As my dad stopped to rest on the corner of a building he noticed a shadow in the distance. A small dog was trotting towards him. It stopped to sniff in and out of the street lights and eventually made its way to my father. My dad knelt down to the dog and cupped his hands behind its ears. He ran his fingers through its soft fur. He talked to it. He hugged it. The dog reciprocated with a pink tongue and a cold nose. It stared at my dad's face and gave the toothy smile that all dogs give humans, and when it had its fill it trotted away, disappearing into the snowy night.
Then my dad went home, feeling much better.
This dog gave my dad something he had not felt in months. It gave my dad love. It was love that was not attached to strings or circumstance. It was not human love. It was unconditional.
My dad told me that dog was a beacon in one of the maelstroms of his life. A small messenger of joy and hope sent from God in one of his darkest moments. Eventually my dad met his wife from a small town in Oklahoma, and things began to turn around for him. My dad has since experienced much worse losses and darker depressions, but he has never forgotten the furry blessing he received on that night.
I know times can be dark, and things seem bleak, but there is joy in simple things, and even in the deepest pits of depression, hope can be found.