You know those rare days when something interrupts and the earth stops spinning and you cannot believe the nerve of the rest of the world going about their business as if it’s a normal day? A new life is born. A marriage happens. A loss is suffered. Ever had one of those days?
I just did.
A week ago I was curled up in a cozy chair reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, where she writes, “Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: It needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents.”
I glanced down at my sweet 11-year-old border collie mix, Maybee, and smiled. Still in the middle of the adventure we set out on several months ago, it was not lost on me how similar we were. If you’ve ever deeply loved an animal then you know how much they allow us to access unique parts of our humanity. They help us see ourselves and the world through different eyes.
Three days later, Maybee died.
In the days since, I’ve thought a lot about our capacity to love and to ache and to want explanations when things go terribly wrong. I’m well-acquainted with the tendency to shake our fists at the sky and shout “WHY? Why me? Why now?”
The problem with searching for explanation – attempting to uncover the mystery of why bad things happen – is that it can keep us from sitting still, from being sad and uncomfortable and accepting that loss is part of our story.
The next day I posted the following on Maybee’s Tumblr (yes, she kept a Tumblr of her photos and adventures). I decided to share it here because I’ve realized that animals are sometimes the best teachers.
Here’s the post:
If you’ve been following Maybee’s adventures, you undoubtedly already know a lot about her. You know from her sweet face and her gentle eyes and her inquisitive smile that she truly was a dog like no other.
So it’s with a mix of profound sadness and gratitude that I interrupt her photo stream to let you know that she died yesterday.
If you’re thinking “What? How? Not possible,” and all the other questions, I assure you I am thinking the same. What I will tell you is that she died quickly and quietly in my arms, without pain or suffering. She was a sweet, tough, resilient girl to the end and she leaves a void that feels bottomless.
Now that’s the end of the sad news, because there’s so much more happy stuff. There’s all the stuff about her I’m grateful for and that I think tells us a little about ourselves and our lives.
Maybee showed up over 11 years ago, a tiny animal stuffed into a Christmas stocking. Over the years, she transformed from a feisty stubborn girl to the sweet, smart, and loving best friend that she was. I couldn’t begin to count the moves and trips and hikes and runs and adventures we’ve taken together. No matter what’s come and gone, Maybee was always there. She was the constant in my life, and that loyalty suited her personality perfectly.
Did I desperately pray she would suddenly get better? Of course. Do I still believe in miracles even though she didn’t? Unequivocally. She helped me to see the tiny miracles and beauty in the every day.
- She taught me how to love.
- She taught me sometimes you need to stop and smell something.
- And sometimes you need to run really really fast through the woods with a smile on your face.
- She taught me that being greeted when you come home from a trip is the best thing ever.
- She taught me that you should always eat dinner at the same time, as the sun sets.
- She taught me that sometimes, when you really love someone, all you can do is stare at them.
- She taught me that we need each other – that having loving friends and family makes everything better.
- She taught me that sometimes you have to have a tea party with a little girl, and if she punches you in the face that’s just part of it. Always be gentle.
- She taught me that people take you more seriously when you stick up for yourself, and that having someone to stick up for you is even better.
- She taught me to be curious and interested in things, even if you’ve seen them before.
- She taught me that sometimes you should spend the afternoon just lying around.
- And now, she’s teaching me how to let go, how to be grateful for the time we have.
- She’s teaching me that sadness and doubt and gratitude can all live together.
- She’s teaching me that showing up matters. Sometimes it’s all you can do.
Is it worth it, you wonder? Is losing such an amazing creature and friend so suddenly worth the sadness?
It’s in death that we learn to really know life. It’s in sadness that we can fully appreciate joy.
If you have a pet, hug it today. Or if you have a person, greet them with kindness and a smile when they come home. Go for a walk and notice how pretty it is outside. Ask yourself when you last took a day off and truly lived life. Slow down. Be gentle with your people. Love well.
Our days are indeed numbered. May we all find the abundance of life and the simple joys that sometimes we can only learn from a dog.