When I was a little boy, I claimed a stray puppy. He became ill. With my father’s help, I treated him as best I could, but his condition only became worse. He disappeared. Dad said he ran away. I never confronted him about the fact that the puppy was too sick to walk, certainly too sick to run. Years later, I kept a well hidden resentment for his failure to tell me the truth.
I became an adult, with the responsibilities of maintaining a family. My father’s funeral was a few days before a skinny wet puppy showed up on my doorstep on a hot and dry summer day. I resisted the urge to open my heart to him, remembering the pain of losing my childhood friend.
I did not know why I decided to take him in. This was the same puppy I wrote about in the Moments with the Minister columns dated July 9 and Aug. 20. When the puppy balked at crossing the bridge over the creek, I picked him up to carry him across. He squealed in absolute terror. I pictured his previous owner trying to drown him, perhaps at this very spot. Likewise, I visualized my father possibly doing the same thing to my boyhood pet.
I named the puppy Po’Joe because he looked so malnourished. Because of a lot of TLC from the McQueen family, he grew up happy, healthy, and smart.
In those days, the border of the city was near our home. The road was narrow, with curves, and little or no shoulder in places. I would often unleash him to run free in the woods and fields until I called him back to me. One morning I unleashed him in a field, and he immediately bolted toward something in the woods. This time, he did not return when I called him. A quick search was unsuccessful. I went home to tell my wife I was going to be in the woods as long as necessary to find Po’Joe. While we talked about organizing a search party, he came loping down the street. We concluded that he had seen something he considered a threat, and he chased it to protect me.
On another occasion while the dog was in the woods and I was walking along the edge of the road, I heard a truck in the distance and thought it best to put Po’Joe on his leash. I called him. He did not appear right away. I ran into the woods. A big gravel truck came around the curve. Po’Joe darted past me. He tried to check his speed and direction as he approached the truck, but his momentum caused him to slam into a rear wheel which tossed him high into the air. He did not survive.
What could I tell my family? How could I justify his death to myself? In hindsight, I thought of so many things I could have — should have — done differently. No one condemned me, which made it easier for me to stop condemning myself. Along the way, I realized I was no better than my father, who — whatever he did — thought he was doing the right thing. If I were to forgive myself, I had to forgive my father, too.
The weight of being unforgiving is like a ball and chain, hindering us from moving forward. Even unconscious unforgiveness. God sent Po’Joe into my life — not just as a consolation on the loss of my father. He wanted me to see the truth that all of us have erred. His son died on a cross for the forgivenss of us all. Therefore, we who are his followers ought also to be forgiving.
Homer McQueen serves as assistant pastor of Mt. Carmel Church of God in Christ, secretary at In His Shadow Outreach Ministries, chaplain for the Sherman District Parole Office, ministry volunteer for the Texas Youth Commission and Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a part-time pharmacist, and a full-time husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.