One of my goals of the year was to write more, and I had hoped to showcase some of that writing on my blogs. Here we are, one week in to 2017 and this is my first blog. I’ve been a bit quiet here because I’ve also been trying to process the passing of my sweet dog, Toto. I got Toto when he was just a puppy, and although he only lived for 8 years, we went through a lot together.
People (especially those who are not “dog people”) may say “He was just a dog.” or they may question “Why are you so emotional about this?” What these people don’t understand is that dogs teach us so much more about waking up at an early hour to be let out or how to how to be patient when it’s time for a bath that neither of you are looking forward to.
Writing is my therapy, and I’ve been thinking about how I was going to write about Toto for a week now. I guess I’ll start simply by saying that I’m really going to miss him but I will never forget him. Coming home the first time knowing that he wouldn’t be there was incredibly hard. There was a time when I would need only to approach my front door and I would hear his bark followed by his little feet running towards the door and scratching as I inserted my key into the lock. Now it is much quieter. There was a time when he would stick his little face in the blinds by my sliding door to say hello to the people passing by. His little face won’t greet them anymore. When I cook, he won’t come running into the kitchen when he hears the knife hit the cutting board in hopes of getting lucky. I’ll miss my sous chef.
In a roundabout way, Toto taught me about how to treat people and how I deserve to be treated.
- Toto always listened. Whenever I had a bad day at work or wanted to complain about something that was frustrating me, he listened. I doubt he understood everything (but I also doubt that he was completely ignorant) but he always listened.
- Toto didn’t hold grudges. There were many times I would get angry at him for snatching my shoes out of the closet, tearing up an important paper or not obeying commands. I’d yell at him and then regret it soon after. But that never kept him from cuddling up next to me when I sat on the couch. It was as if he was saying “I’m sorry, Mom…I know you yelled at me. I know I was wrong. But I’m not mad. I still love you.” If only people could do this. If only I could do this.
- Toto taught me the value of a routine. It helps to have certain habits that will get you through the day. He paid such close attention to my routine and tailored his to fit mine. Every night when I closed my laptop cover he knew it was time for bed and would run to the bedroom. If I deviated from this routine, he let out a whimper as if to tell me “Get back on track.” He also knew when it was mealtime. I would bring my food to the table and he would wait patiently for me to fill his food bowl. He knew the value of a routine.
- It’s hard for me to articulate everything he taught me in 8 years, but most importantly, Toto taught me about love. There’s a quote from the movie Marley and Me (which by the way is NOT a comedy) that I love when it comes to dogs:
A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if your rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?
It reminds me that love isn’t about me. It’s about who receives that love. Toto did it right. It was never about him. Even when I would leave him with a sitter when I went on a trip or when I went to work, he was always there ready to greet me with a wagging tail. Even when I was working on something late at night, he was always there at my feet waiting on me even if he was ready to go to the room and call it a night.
After he died, I was of course heartbroken. I was so ready to shut down and scream that the world was turning against me. I promised I’d never get another dog, that I’d never invest myself into anyone again, animal or person. I started to think of everyone who I’ve loved and lost, people who have passed, people who have moved away or silently walked out of my life. And I just wondered, “Why? Why do we even try loving when it’s so prone to heartbreak?” And I came across this quote from C.S. Lewis:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
The more I read those words, the more powerful I realize they are. I’ve held the position before that God can use anything to get closer to us. In this case, he used Toto to remind me that love is vulnerable. And it’s better to be vulnerable than to be locked up and impenetrable. Of course it doesn’t seem like it at the time, but there is hope that in the grand scheme of things, that it is better to be broken than to be irredeemable.
And so I take these lessons as I slowly adjust to life without my little guy. Over the next few days I’ll bring myself to discard what was left o his dog food, put away his collar and food dishes and find a place to donate his toys that we never opened. All the while, I’ll remember how he made me feel extraordinary and try to make someone feel that way, too.