Sometimes I question whether the work I’ve chosen is worthwhile, important, valuable. Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn being part of the work I do, and this time of year being “Mr. Dog High Season,” and things being the way they've been lately, the worthiness question has been on my mind this week.
I started this project to share a story that is very simple but profoundly meaningful to me. In that sense, Mr. Dog feels like my artwork, even though I’m neither the author nor the illustrator. Despite those lofty creative feelings, there have been many days since I started the project, over three years ago, that I’ve questioned the value of my efforts. There are things happening out there in the world that demand our attention—injustices and inequalities abound, many of them so painful I can barely look or listen to the news. I argue with myself that what I’ve chosen to do with my time is frivolous, when these urgent humanitarian and environmental crises cry out, “All hands on deck!”
What possible import could a 100+ year old children’s story about a dog who plays Santa Claus have, in the face of this greater work that needs to be done? This week, I’ve faced that question yet again and I’ve found myself arriving at an answer that renews my sense of purpose. Here’s what I’ve been thinking…
We grow up listening to stories. At some point, we begin sharing them ourselves—stories we enjoy and sometimes even stories we’ve created ourselves. The stories that endure for us say something about our fundamental values, about what we hold most dear. For that reason alone, they are not frivolous at all. In fact, they can be a form of shared language, speaking for us across divides and helping us find common ground.
“Mr. Dog” pulls at my heart because it speaks of friendship, playfulness, creativity, ingenuity, devotion, kindness, generosity, and gratitude. These are qualities I try to cultivate in all my interactions, with both friends and strangers, in good times and in bad. My family’s 75+ year tradition with Mr. Dog has been a touchstone, something we unite around to remind us of how simple our true needs are, how much we have to share, and how much we love and appreciate one another despite the difficulties and differences that crop up between us throughout the year. So yes, it’s entertainment—just a silly children’s story—and yet, it’s so much more.
I feel so grateful each time I hear from another one of you who loves the story. If I know nothing more about you, I suspect that our shared appreciation for Paine’s story says a great deal about what we have in common, about what inspires and unites us. That feels very important indeed.