Today Time Magazine announced its Person of the Year award. For 2011, the Person of the Year is the Protester, to honor those around the world whose acts of protest have been changing the shape of governments and giving voice to new visions.
I like to think that this award was shared by the best voice of freedom that I know, a voice that just two days ago went silent. I am speaking of the voice of Atticus, canine extraordinaire, whose blog Atticus Uncensored has been regular reading for me since I discovered it about a year ago.
Atticus was (I first wrote “is” but then sadly changed that to past tense) an English Cocker Spaniel raised lovingly by Heidi Alberti. Atticus was the voice of the blog, but Heidi was the voice whispering in Atticus’s ear. Together they championed social justice, peace, and life’s delights, challenging us humans to adopt a pup’s positive (“pawsitive”) perspective on the world.
Tolerance in human relationships? Atticus spoke passionately in favor of everyone’s right to live and love (after all, spreading loving was part of his life’s work). The Occupy Movement? Atticus, a dog of action, was right there. People in need following a crisis? Atticus ached with compassion and reminded us to give to others. Civil rights and the legacy of Martin Luther King? Atticus revered King’s mission to bring equality to the world and hoped his own little pawprint would serve that mission.
Perhaps what I admired most about Atticus was his fearlessness in speaking his mind and acting upon his beliefs. One time he voiced opposition to Howard Schultz’s decision to allow guns into the local Starbucks, and I knew Atticus would not frequent Starbucks after that. I continued to do so (guiltily making excuses that there are not a lot of good options close by and we don’t have guns at our Starbucks anyway), but I thought of Atticus every time. I believed Atticus’s courage would rub off on me and I would become increasingly willing to trade in convenience for conviction. (By the way, you didn’t have to agree with Atticus on all issues–he just wanted to invite you into the discussion.)
Not everything was always serious for Atticus. From baseball to music to the great outdoors, Atticus took joy in life and displayed an exceptional patience for modeling costumes. Along with his family of Wilbur (another pooch), Bella (the sibling cat), and mama Heidi, as well as numerous doggy and human friends, Atticus celebrated every holiday and wrote of the pleasures of being alive.
Atticus was ill for several weeks, sometimes seriously so, but I never thought we would lose him. News of his death flashed around Facebook (fittingly so, given the on-line pro that he was), and the condolence threads burst forth with genuine shock and grief. Yes, we all knew he was a dog, and yes, we understood that Heidi was behind Atticus’s voice, but we cared about Atticus, for real.
That was Atticus’s gift: he made us care, about him, about his family, about people who were suffering, about injustice, about the scourge of negativity and hostility, about what and how we contribute to society. In a world where cynicism, unfairness, and fear can pull us under the dark waters, Atticus encouraged us to stay afloat with a positive-minded dog paddle. His simple refrain, “Think like a dog,” cut through human limitations and defenses and invited us to be the best humans we could be.
Read more testimonials and tributes to Atticus! Links below.
Questions for Reflection: If you were a fan of Atticus, how did he affect you? What will you remember him for? For everyone, what inspires you to speak out for justice? What role do animals play in your life?
Writing Prompts: “When I think of Atticus, I ______” (then keep writing); “I remember the blog post where Atticus ______” (then keep writing); “To me, think like a dog means ______” (then keep writing); “One social issue I feel strongly about is ______” (then keep writing).
Other tributes to Atticus: