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I Believe in Unlikely Role Models

Essayist Gwen Oliver
Erin Cassidy Hendrick

I believe that anyone, or anything, can be an inspiration to others.

Back at a time when I had just started to use the big-kid swings, my family adopted a dog that we named Simon.  He was a short and lumpy black Labrador mix who toddled around awkwardly. He ran slightly to the right, and would lay down by throwing himself to the floor. Despite his gracelessness, Simon quickly became one of my favorite “people” in the world. His ungainliness masked a compassion and selflessness beyond that of any human being I’ve ever met.

When my sister was just a baby, she would sit in a high chair, jingling rattles and toys and swinging her legs beneath her. Simon would lay under her chair, staying close by to protect her, closing his eyes briefly when her chubby legs hit his head. He would keep her company for hours, remaining beneath her as she kicked him and made loud shrieking noises. I would watch their curious interactions and wonder how in the world Simon could practice such tolerance.

When I got my first cat, Blackie, Simon showed no interest being a stereotypical dog. Instead, he befriended Blackie and formed a unique camaraderie with him. Simon allowed Blackie to lick his nose and rub against him. Blackie frequently woke Simon up just to express affection. Simon would let Blackie to drink from his water bowl, and sometimes waited several minutes for Blackie to finish drinking before he got water for himself. Their relationship, like Simon’s with my sister, was rather one-sided. Still, Simon never demonstrated aggression or even frustration with Blackie, only patience and restraint.

At the time that my family got Simon, we also had a dog named Guinness. Guinness passed away when Simon was three years old, ending a long friendship between the two dogs. Guinness’ death was devastating to my entire family, but probably most to Simon. For weeks after Guinness’ passing, Simon would stand by the front door, eyes fixed on the road leading to our driveway, and wait for Guinness to return home.

Whenever he was called away from his vigil, I thought I could detect real human sadness in his expression. His devotion was both acutely painful and uncommonly beautiful. Although it was difficult for me to observe such pain in Simon, I can’t imagine a better tribute to Guinness, or a better example of the commitment that Simon had for his family.

By observing Simon as a child, I learned compassion, dedication, and unconditional love. I witnessed incredible poise and unwavering devotion. The example that he set for me has carried through my life so far, and in the most trying of situations, I find myself remembering the acceptance with which he faced all situations and types of people.  I still follow the lessons that he unwittingly taught me from the time I could barely reach to pet his back. 

Simon was one of my first role models, and because of his influence, I believe that it’s important to keep our minds open and look for inspiration everywhere. It is often found in the most under appreciated of places. I believe in unlikely role models.

Gwen Oliver is a junior at State College High. She currently has a Kuvasz dog named Dallas. 

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