Was going to sleep in this morning, but a cold nose on mine woke me. He loves routine. I wish I could be better for him. But I did get up and let him out in the yard. I push the button to grind a cup of coffee. Before it is done, Leonard is in the house again, standing next to the treat cupboard. People talk a lot about what dogs give us. I’m not sure I’ve ever read about how dogs give us a framework for our days. For time, really – their lives being so expectedly short. I have literally measured my life in dogs before. How many dogs left? It is a way of asking how many possible loves.
Every one is a lesson in grief, of course. But also love. When Kiri was stumbling at 18, her body unrecognizably thin and covered with odd lumps, she would have repulsed me – frightened me – but after 18 years (who’d have dreamt we would have so many) when she rested her snout in my hand, my chest hurt. The invisible threads of attachment were ripping from the meat of my heart. You’d think that there would be some kind of imaging machine that could show the damage done, the wound.
Puppy love is infatuation. This was a slow-grown love that allowed me to lie on the kitchen floor with her. To glide my fingers over her bones. To stroke her snout, thinking this was one of the few places that may not hurt. To take her to the vet one last time.
I suspect this is preparation for what most of us will go through with the people in our lives. Maybe one of the few advantages of estrangement is to avoid this hurt. Or maybe estrangement is its own slow ripping of the heart. So slow that the constant pain becomes a kind of white noise in our lives.
Elizabeth II said that grief is the price we pay for love. I think that when I first heard this I thought of it as a bill that comes due when something comes to an end. But for those of us who aren’t good at living in the moment, I expect it is a constant pinch.
Maybe living in the moment isn’t my goal. Maybe this really is fine. If yesterday, today, and tomorrow are all the same to the gods, then living in a moment that embraces them all must have its advantages. Depth. Contrast. Richness. The whole of existence.
When Leonard boops my nose in the morning, I am conscious of the temporariness of our routine, of its fragility in terms of choice, effort, and time. And my heart aches in the way your bones do when you wrap yourself with wool against the biting cold.
I think of friends. How my days slide by when I am not making choices. Not reaching out to boop them on the nose. If I don’t overcome my fear of needing them, of losing them – well, it is so great a loss that it makes me question what the quality of my life is and will be, if I don’t follow my instinct to reach out and stroke their cheekbones.
Metaphorically, of course.
This means, you Richard. And B. And… a small alphabet of strong and weak ties.
I’m off to take Leonard to the lake.