I could tell you about Jessie, my heart dog, the first dog that was all mine. I could tell you how gentle she was with babies and small animals, how infallible her sense of judgement was on character, how she was a tigress protecting cubs if she thought I was being threatened. I could tell you how she broke my heart when she developed a terminal disease at ten years of age, and there was nothing on the planet that could save her. She’s been gone twice as long as she’d been alive, and tears still come to my eyes as I type these words. She taught me what it was like to love and be loved unconditionally, and for that, I owe her the world.
And then there was Abigail, who had so many issues, both mental and physical, that she kept me fully occupied after losing Jessie. Solving those problems took me on a journey down a path I’d never expected to go, introducing me to a different way of thinking, even a different way of living. It took me a long time to appreciate the teachings Abi brought into my life, to be grateful for her hard-headedness and her strength of spirit after Jessie’s gentleness. She was exactly what I’d needed in my life, though it was hard to believe it at the time. I still regret that while she demanded so much from me, forcing me to grow in ways I hadn’t expected, I always held back a little piece of my heart–the part that couldn’t bear to be shattered again.
And then there’s H. Like Horatio Caine, H is so cool, he only goes by his initial. H is everything I’ve ever wanted in a dog. I was on a waiting list for two years for him, and drove over 800 miles to pick him up. I took Abi with me, because if she hadn’t approved, then he wouldn’t have come home with us. To everyone’s surprise, when they were introduced, Abi, graying and fragile, found a stick and brought it over for the fuzzy young H to play with. It was so much like a passing of the baton that my friends still comment on it today.
H is the dog I’ve always wanted. Handsome, strong, healthy, with a boyish energy that is hard to keep up with, to be honest. Most days, it’s like living with a two year old racehorse in the house. I realize he is the dog I always wanted–when I was twenty. I’m not twenty anymore, and after years of working 60+ hours a week, it’s hard to come home to find a bouncing, energetic dog who wants my attention and wants to go DO something when all I want to do is sit down for the first time all day.
I frequently tell him that he would have been better off with someone else. Someone who would have given him an outlet for his energy, who wouldn’t come home grumpy and too tired to go for a walk. Someone who would get up early and take him for long hikes in the woods. The funny thing is, he doesn’t listen to that. He doesn’t care that I’ve gained 15 pounds, or that my hair is thinning, or that I am not the person I was when I was twenty. He doesn’t try to jolly me out of my depression, though sometimes he forces me to take that walk anyway. Oddly enough, it is almost always the right call.
The thing with H, is that he doesn’t see me as I do when I look into the mirror. He doesn’t see my faults, or my failings. Oh sure, I might get the woebegone face when I tell him to go lie down, and I admit, I do that more often than I should. And yes, the other night he took a box out of recycling and tore it up into itty bitty pieces because I said we weren’t going for a walk. Dude, it was sleeting. I get a free pass on that one.
But I’ve noticed recently that I don’t take as many pictures of him as I used to. He’s beginning to show his age right before my eyes, and it feels like a reflection of my own aging, even as my head is saying, too soon, too soon, not again, too soon.
I’m aware that one of my biggest hang-ups in life is holding back from giving my entire heart to anything because I am protecting myself from eventual loss. I start preparing for that loss years in advance, distancing and sheltering my poor fragile little heart because, you know, it might ache some day. As a result of this, I’ve lost out on a lot of joy in life. And frankly, these little things are the ones that make life worth living because the big ones? Well, they’re like winning the lottery. Doesn’t happen often, and for some, never.
And the best thing about a dog is he doesn’t think in terms of the future. Hell, I’ve seen a dog wake up from anesthesia, take a step, fall down and go, “Dang, I’m missing a leg” and then figure out how to walk without it.They are utterly amazing creatures with their ability to live in the moment. The other wonderful thing about dogs is that every sentence begins with “Wouldn’t it be fun if…?”
Wouldn’t it be fun if we spent the whole day hiking? Wouldn’t it be fun if I stole your shoe while you were trying to get dressed? Wouldn’t it be fun to chase the cat, swim underneath a waterfall, watch the sun rise from the top of a mountain?
Okay, sometimes the ‘wouldn’t it be fun’ isn’t always the best idea. I certainly wasn’t laughing when I chased after H, bellowing for him to leave the bear alone as he ran it up the side of the mountain. Nor when I realized that he’d rolled in something disgusting, but only AFTER he’d greeted everyone at the pet store by wallowing all over them. Okay, maybe I thought it was a little funny. Later. After we got home.
The point is, H doesn’t care that he is graying around the muzzle, or that he is getting cataracts. He is not particularly bothered that his nose is cracking and peeling (I’m doing my best to treat it, but this too, is another common German Shepherd problem). He is who he is, and he doesn’t think about it. Likewise, in his eyes, I am who I am. He doesn’t care that feel like a terrible failure at times–I am not a failure to him. I am not my appearance or my wealth or my success. I am me, and I am the only me he has and he doesn’t want another me. I am good enough for him.
I should be good enough for me, too.
Yesterday, I ran across this post about a woman who created and filled a bucket list for her dying dog. I made it most of the way through the post before I started crying, so be warned if you choose to read it. It struck home once more how much I tend to mourn the loss of things years in advance, as though by spreading out the pain over time, it will somehow hurt less when the loss actually occurs. It probably does. I frequently stand dry-eyed at funerals, proud of my inner Vulcan, calmly dealing with death while everyone around me falls apart. But then I am the one ugly-crying in the parking lot when a memory strikes me out of nowhere years later. See, sorrow is a bit like mass and energy. You can convert it to something else, but the energy of it is still retained. Eventually you have to get rid of it somehow, or it will color your perception of your entire world. And I am tired of living in a gray half-light of mourning in order to keep from crying in the dark.
So, I’m going to live more like my dog. I’m going to chase butterflies and not care if I look silly doing it. I’m going to get muddy and laugh about it. I’m going to live as though I’m putting things on a bucket list instead of waiting for that ephemeral day when I’ll have the time and money to go someplace ‘special’. But most of all, I’m going to cut myself slack. I’m going to love hard, and love what I have now, and make sure that everyone I love knows it. I’m going to live as though I really am the person my dog thinks I am. I’m going to see myself through his eyes. They are very beautiful eyes, aren’t they?