A couple months ago we got our dog Bernie neutered, and now I'm experiencing regret. When I first inquired at the vet, I told the lady at the front desk, "We need to get our dog fixed."
"Do you mean castrated?" she asked. Castrated. The word sounded so violent and final. I imagined our little Bernie exposed to the knife.
I tried to be light and nonchalant about it. "Yeah, de-balled," I chuckled.
The woman looked up and raised an eyebrow, unamused. "And the name?"
"Bernie... or Bernard James," I smiled.
"No, your name."
Saying my own name injected an ownership in the whole thing that made me even more uneasy. She tried to reassure me, explaining how the "procedure" would all happened while he was under full anesthesia and that they'd also insert a microchip under his skin for ID and pull all his baby teeth while they're at it, too, all while he was asleep.
"Wow," I said, "the whole enchilada." I felt a slight tremor and finally left Bernie with her.
He came back home the same day in a complete stupor and walked around with a cone around his neck for seven days until he was back to normal. Except...
Over the past couple months I've noticed Bernie has been acting different. He's not marking his territory as much as before and doesn't sniff other dogs as much. He doesn't play bite me as much and is less feisty. And of course, he won't be coupling for his entire dog life. He's become less Bernie. Less of a dog. I miss the old guy. I've questioned myself. Have we violated something essential and innate to the poor animal? Was the neutering really necessary?
And it's made me think about human nature. It got me thinking about our tendency to try to "fix" things that feel unmanageable and uncomfortable. And if we don't fix them, we hide them. We suppress thoughts and feelings that are most personal and secret to us, even with those we claim to love the most, fearing we might alienate them. We neuter ourselves when we might be better served by taking a friend into our confidence and acknowledging things about us that feel out of our control.
The prospect of being exposed is a fearful one. If the tiger is let out, it might go wild and devour everything in sight. We might risk our dignity or our friendships. But if we were to take a risk with someone we trusted, and knew that they would never betray or leave us if we shared X (fill in the blank) about ourselves, think about it. We might become freer, feel more completely accepted and loved, and we might deepen our trust and friendships.
These thoughts may sound like a long stretch from getting our dog neutered, and I'm not suggesting any kind of "unrepressed sexual freedom." As humans we have some big advantages over dogs. We can reflect and choose what we let out without "going wild," so to speak. Getting Bernie neutered simply triggered some thoughts, specifically this: acknowledging, rather than masking, those things we find difficult and unpleasant -- wounds, regrets, anxieties, wrongs, addictions -- may be the door to greater spiritual health.
In the Christian tradition, I think Protestants lost an important practice when they rejected Catholicism -- confession. I like the term "going to confession." The verb "going" makes it a deliberate act. We have to take a step to go. We're going to meet someone, in private, in confidence, to confess things that can never be revealed to any other soul. Just ourselves and the other person before God alone as our judge and forgiver. But even if we are not Catholic, making a discerning revelation about ourselves -- confession -- with the right person could be the beginning of new life.