Southwest Ohioans are tracking a black bear that has roamed the region for several weeks now. It likely swam across the Ohio river in a moment of disorientation and police want to get close enough to tranquilize it so they can transport it back to the hills of Kentucky or Tennessee. It has been spotted in Hamilton County and the cities of Madeira, Montgomery, and Oakley. Motorists, joggers, and families in their backyards remain camera-ready to snap a selfie with the unusual visitor. But authorities warn to keep a safe distance and avoid sudden movements that may provoke an attack in self-defense. I speak from experience when I say: listen to the authorities.
I recently adopted a dog who is a border collie-lab mix with dark black fur, darker brown eyes, and a few extra pounds. His name is Bart but my son calls him Big Bear. So do strangers. Bart likes to run in a local park and I take him there at odd hours because I don’t follow the rule about securing him with a leash. He is gentle and obedient so when there are no cars in sight and no signs of hikers, I let him run untethered so he can chase squirrels, feel the breeze in his fur, and get his heart rate up to help him lose some of his bear-looking weight. This worked without incident until yesterday when new video put the black bear of Clermont County on the news again, and in everyone’s mind.
Bart was eating grass, lapping water from potholes, and sniffing the daylight out of tree trunks when a band of squirrels coerced him to follow them to the underpass that leads to the opposite side of the park. They jumped branches, rode the high wires of telephone poles, and practically stuck out their tongues daring him to follow them into the brush. Simultaneously, I caught sight of a woman and her dog approaching the same area. Bart zipped off before I could click the leash to his collar.
“Bear! Bear!” The woman didn’t yell; she screamed.
I screamed too. “No, not a bear. He’s a dog. And he’s gentle.” My flip-flops slapped my feet like reprimands for not following my morning instinct to wear shoes.
“Bear! Bear! Stop, bear! Stop!”
“Don’t be afraid. I’m coming.” Huff. Huff. Huff.
“Get back, bear! Get back.”
“He won’t hurt you,” I repeated. Puff. Puff. Puff.
“I’m warning you, bear. Get back!” Growls echoed through the trees. I didn’t know if they were from the woman or her dog.
“Bart, please come back to Mommy.”
When I reached the underpass, Bart was calmly watching the woman who kept her dog at bay with the grip of a tug-of-war champion. I snapped the leash on Bart ‘s collar and fell knee-deep in apologies. “I knew he wouldn’t hurt you,” I said, “but you, of course, didn’t know that.”
“Hurt me?” she said. “I wasn’t worried about your dog hurting me. I was worried about my dog, Bear, hurting him.” Then she and Bear continued on their way.
Like the black bear of Clermont County, I often get disoriented on my Christian path. I cross rivers God never intended me to cross. I ignore rules set up to protect, not limit. me. I misperceive victim and perpetrator when I’m not close enough to a situation to know Bart from Bear.
But I believe that as long as I stay connected to the Authority, He will track me wherever I roam. I believe there will always be a Community of Saints–people on earth and in heaven– who will cheer me on with prayer. I believe that no matter what rascally squirrels are tempting me, the responsibility for my actions and reactions are my sole—and soul—responsibility. God will lead me home if that’s where I desire to go. Not with a tranquilizer gun to subdue me into submission, but leash free so I may choose my destination.