What I learned from Jo Jo

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Jo Jo wasn't my dog. He lived near me but spent a lot of time around the five houses where I live. I named him Jo Jo because his owner was called Jo. I had no idea what his name was but he answered to Jo Jo. For the first few years I lived here I never let him in the house. Then one day, when it was raining (I’m in Ireland – pick any day of the year) he looked so forlorn outside I let him in. I dried him with a towel and he lay gratefully at my feet and went to sleep. The next time it rained he barked outside to let me know he was there and when I appeared with a towel he lifted up his paws to be dried.

Whichever room I was in he followed me to lie at my feet. When he wanted some affection he sat by me with his paw on my knee or rubbed his head on my hand. I never fed him and he refused water. When I was going to bed I called him to the back door and he stood still while I hugged him and said goodnight then out he went into the night – who knows where. He was the perfect dog. I think he had a number of other houses on his circuit, and some of them did feed him, so he was well loved and well looked after.

Whenever I went for a walk he popped up from wherever he was and joined me. As he rushed towards me to greet me I swear he was smiling. We walked down to the new pier and when we came back he sat on the wall at the end of the entrance to the houses where I live (see picture) for me to hold him and cuddle him. I think, actually, he thought he was fulfilling a need of mine – and maybe he was right.

But here is what I learned from Jo Jo.

1.     If I didn’t want to let him in when he barked he just went away. And if I appeared 10 minutes later to go for a walk he would still run to me delighted to see me. No grudges. No ‘why didn’t you let me in’. Just delight that I was there.

2.     He had no loyalty to me. When the occupants of a small cottage returned for a visit, I didn't see Jo Jo for days. He had no obligations. He went where he pleased and where he was welcomed.

3.     He spontaneously gave and received affection

I think of my friends and how I am in relationship with them. I would always be the one to contact people (‘you’re so good at keeping in touch’) so I decided that I wouldn’t contact people any more, I would wait for them to contact me. I waited for 6 months and no-one contacted me! I missed them. So I had a choice to make. Should I go on resenting that it’s always me who reaches out and making an issue of it when I spoke to them again. Or should I just delight in the friendship without counting who contacts whom?

I have one particular friend who I feel very close to. I know how dear I am to her yet I also know that she has absolutely no need of other people. If she were transported to an island and never saw people again it would probably be her idea of Heaven. She told me once that she had a very good friend who was continually upset with her because ‘you don’t act like a proper friend’. The friend wanted to see her regularly, speak regularly, do friend things together. Ultimately this other friend let the friendship go because she was continually feeling hurt. I could see exactly what she meant. When you feel close to someone and they don’t seem too bothered about you, even thought they are truly delighted whenever you do speak or meet, it’s hard when they profess how much you mean to them.

It seemed to work for Jo Jo and me. I didn't have any expectations of him and he certainly didn't have any of me. And because of that, spontaneous affection could be given and received freely. I think all pain is caused by expectations not being met. We have a need – we expect others to meet that need – and we judge them when they don’t and make them the cause of our pain. Intimate relationships are different in that there is usually a contract of some kind that both people agree to and are constantly re-negotiating. But we don’t have contracts with friends do we? or do we?

We could all learn from Jo Jo.