(Ritz and his little friend “Stinker, The Bug” / Photo by Kelly Sears)

Editor’s Note:

One of my most favorite images of the year, and of a lifetime, for that matter, is this photo of Ritz and his new-found friend “Stinker, The Bug.”

My great, great friend and Leigh Ann’s aunt, Kelly Sears, captured the moment in time, and for all times sakes, when she snapped the face-off this past summer down in far West Kentucky. And, in my mind, it is a classic that just begs so many questions.

What do you think is going through the mind of Ritz, a young Yellow Lab so full of energy and wonderment?

Still a youngster trying to figure out the ways of the world, Ritz is constantly going on treasure hunts that sometimes — well, most of the times — end up in more trouble than they are worth.

If there is a deceased fish that needs finding, and rolling around in? Ritz will discover it, as proud as Columbus had to be when he first landed on island. And, just like the adventurous skipper that came before him, Ritz, too, will explore. Each and every inch. He will roll. And, roll. And, roll. Until the smell is so ingrained into his very fiber that he soon will not be forgotten. The course has been charted.

If there is a skunk that needs swishing away, Ritz will be the first to volunteer his services and risk his nostrils and yours to do the swishing. He is generous that way. Always giving.

If there is a mud puddle that needs splashing in, Ritz will likely jump right into the task. He’s never met a mud pie that he didn’t like to plaster on both paw and print. It makes for great art work when he gets home and another job for mom to clean up.

So what do you think Ritz is contemplating when he first eye-balled “Stinker, the Bug?

Ritz may have thought:

“Is this friend? Or is this foe?”

“Can this little thing do me good? Or can this little thing do me wrong?”

“Can I eat him?” After all, when Ritz doesn’t know what to do with most things, then most things go right in the mouth. One way or another, most “things” come out OK. If you know what I mean.

Thoughts. So many thoughts.

Decisions. So many decisions.

A pup’s job is never easy, and never done.

Such is the life of Ritz.

On the other hand, what do you think is going through the mind of “Stinker, the Bug?” Don’t know his age, but he had to be older, right? He had to be street wiser, correct? He had to have the experience of having lived through other experiences like these, surely?

After all, the life of a stink bug is not a glamorous one.

They are generally regarded as a nuisance more than a joy.

Somehow they find their way into your living quarters and have to be rejected and ejected with a bit of care and distain, at the same time.

The only reason most people don’s just squish them and dispose of them quickly is the reason for their very name. If you do, they end up stinking and leaving a foul oder that just seems to linger. Like a dust mop that explodes or a cat’s hair ball that gets caught in your clothes.

Musty. Dusty. Yucky.

Such is the life of “Stinker.”

So what do you think “Stinker, the Bug” is thinking when he first eye-balled Ritz?

Stinker could have thought:

“Of all the damn things to run up against in my daily routine, I had to finally find my way and navigate all the way to the sunlight and the door only to be encountered by this massive beast? Are you kidding me? What in the hell did I ever do to deserve a fate like this?”

“Do you think if I stand real still and don’t flinch a single, stinking muscle that this mammoth buffoon will get bored and leave?”

“Do you think this is friend or foe. Do you think this big-ass thing will do me good or do me wrong? Can I eat him? Oh, wait. That’s his lines, not mind. Crap. What to do?”

“Where is Ritz’ brother Mack, after all? If he came along, I might be able to jump on him; mingle in his dark hairs and steal away without this cat (I mean dog) being the wiser. Sounds like a solid plan. Escape. Pull the rip cord. Retreat. Bail. Evacuate.”

We will never know what Ritz or “Stinker” were thinking that day. I can’t even bring myself to tell you the ultimate fate of either critter after their encounter. Let’s just say that Ritz is still with us. In both spirit and reality.

But I think we all find ourselves in these same situations from time to time.

Some days we are the happy-go-lucky Ritz, peering down on something new. We have our questions. We have our choices. We can walk away and let bygones be bygones. We can live and let live. We can help. Or we can thwart.

Just because something — or someone — may be smaller than us, though, is no reason why we can’t stop and help. We do have the option to assist and help. Even stinkers. After all, we can all be “stinkers” from time to time.

On the other hand, some days we just may be the little stink bug, peering up at something new. Big. Challenging. Threatening. It could be an obstacle to the “Promised Land.” It could block our way to the light and the summer’s glow. We have our questions. We have our choices. We can turn and run, hoping flight overcome fright. We can hope to live to fight another day. We can scat to the cat, as if that might be a better option. Or we can soldier on.

Just because something — or someone — may be bigger than us, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t overcome. We do have the option to try and figure a way around the issue; a way to resolve the impasse; a way to solve the problem; a way to move forward. Even against all odds.

For most of us, we will be faced with having to play both of these moving parts — from time to time.

My Christmas prayer is that when we are the lovable Ritz, we find a way to love with as much heart as curiosity.

My Christmas prayer is that when we are the little stink bug, we find a way to overcome with as much spunk as stink.

My Christmas prayer is that when we stand at that door, and we knock? It will be opened unto us.

All of us.