A remarkable sight today: After walking the dog, we stopped on the porch with the front door open to practice a sit-stay command. He’s nearly mastered the skill inside, but for anxious dog who grew up in a neglectful home, maintaining the impulse-control and presence of mind that a sit-stay requires, in the midst of all the sights and sounds of the outdoors, is an enormous feat.

With a treat in hand I said, “Sit,” and he sat for a few moments, facing the open doorway. Eventually the brisk wind surged and he flinched, bolting inside to safer ground. He looked at me nervously from inside the doorway, and I suspected he wanted a second chance to prove himself. I squatted down and indicated the treat again, inviting him, “Come here. You can do it—I just want you to stay for 10 seconds.” After a moment of steeling himself, he trotted directly to me. Immediately I repeated, “Sit,” and he sat again, this time facing away from the door toward me, and toward the sun and wind behind me.

And then, a transfiguration: the sunlight illuminating his determined face, amplifying all the minute, rapid movements of the muscles in his nose and eyes and mouth, dozens of coordinated reflexes against the breeze, which was gently rustling all the wild hairs that cover his scruffy, quivering body. Holding still, every inch in motion. The dog has become familiar to me in our routines, working and reading and eating and fetching, mostly indoors. But here in the sun and wind he changed into something else, into a thing alive, into life itself.

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