The Night My Dog Died

Being faced with the finitude of opportunity motivates you to make the most of present.

A few weeks ago, after day out on an East Texas lake, enjoying the water and the sand and the boat and the over-tired toddler, I loaded up my two youngest and headed back to my parents' house while the rest of the crew enjoyed a few more ski runs around the lake. It was already dark when I got home and there was snoring from the two car seats behind me. I have two arms, maybe I can carry both of them upstairs without them without them waking up. A click-click-click of seat belts being unbuckled, an incoherent garbled moan from each of them and I had one on each hip. I headed for the front door and called to my dog, laying against the screen door, to get out of the way. She didn't move.

Maybe you didn't know that I have a dog. A welsh corgi that we got from an Amish farmer. My then-new husband surprised me with her on the day that I had a surprise of my own for him: that we were expecting our first baby. I waited until after we brought the puppy home and executed the first of many flea baths before I told him.

I tried to gently open the screen door with a free pinkie, but my dog was a dead weight. "Detzah, move!" I tried to pry her off the doormat with a gentle nudge of my foot. No response. I froze, staring down with my arms full of kids. Detzah's ribcage rose and fell laboriously. Her eyes stared straight ahead. I nudged one more time with my foot and called her. Nothing. I gave up and went around to the side door and quickly tucked the babies into bed.

Back downstairs, I gathered a beach towel from the laundry pile, remembering another time I had done it for her. We'd move to Texas while she was still just a puppy and I was half-way through my first pregnancy. Within weeks of arriving, my husband "caught her in the act" with another dog - a much, much larger farm collie - a relationship that we had been so sure was strictly platonic. In the next few months, pregnant Jessie and her pregnant dog sat together on the porch swing over many a hot East Texas day, feeling that nobody on earth could understand my distress as much as the other one of the swing (well, that's how I felt...I guess I can't really speak for the dog). She delivered before me while everyone else was in Dallas for the day. I made a nest of beach towels for her and hovered nearby, anxious that the over-large father would be responsible for puppies too big for her to deliver. I was ready to be the midwife. She didn't need anything and I just watched in awe as the mewling litter was born and brought her something yummy and revivifying when she had finished her labors.

Now, I retraced my steps out to the front of my parents' house and made a bed for her off to the side. Her eyes barely followed my movements. I pulled her onto the towel - she was a dead weight. I brought her a bowl of water and settled down beside her.

She's old. When we finally moved away from my parents' farm, it didn't seem right to end Detzah's three years of country living and remove her with us to our tiny duplex with tiny yard. She'd grown used to running after horses and goats and yapping at coyotes and doing her best to convince the other dogs that she was the biggest of them all. So, we left her.

We're bad dog parents.

I thought about all this as I stroked her fur and sang her the same songs I used to hum while we sat on the porch swing together, both pregnant. Thought about how I could have taken better care of her, paid her more attention when we came to visit. Thought about endings, and about how we seem to get the best ideas for the life we could have made when we're nearer to the end than to the beginning.

Then I went inside and called the Engineer and told him that I doubted that our old dog would make it through the night.

It's been so much on my mind - the reality that it's almost impossible to be fully thankful for all the good that you have in the moment that you have it. You're only human if you've been frustrated by having your sleep interrupted by a fussing toddler in the middle of the night. You're only human if you've ever fought back angry words when the kids spill an entire box of cheerios on the floor that you just swept. You're only human if it grates on you that your husband demands that everybody clean up the house when you have dinner ready on the table and just want everybody to sit-down-and-eat-already. It's only with reflection that you become grateful that you can fall asleep and be confident that your toddler is living, breathing, functioning exactly as she should; that kids make messes because they are full of courage and curiosity and confidence that they can reach higher than adults sometimes think they can; that your husband is already a giant among men because he is home for dinner and involved in his kids' lives and willing to help own a messy house.

I wish that all these thoughts of gratitude would coincide with the moment that they are happening. But lets be real - that's hard. I've set a goal: I've picked one thing that usually triggers an unhappy response from me and decided to retrain my neural pathways so that my brain takes it as a cue for gratitude. When I've reprogrammed that one trigger, then I'll work on the next one. Step-by-step, maybe I can build the kind of relationships that I'll be proud of at the end.

In the cycle of the Jewish year, we find ourselves standing at the threshold of Tisha-b'av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, the day we mourn the destruction of the temple. But right before Tisha b'av is Shabbat Chazon - the sabbath of vision. Rabbi Yossie Nemes shared a beautiful chassidic thought that I will attempt to sum up in my own words: There was a boy who was given a handsome new suit which he promptly ruined with spilled grape juice. The next year, he was given another handsome suit which he tore when he jumped off the monkey bars. His parents bought him another suit, but didn't give it to him right away. Instead, they kept it in the closet and periodically led the boy to the closet to look up at it hanging there. While he looked up at and admired it, they told him how handsome he would look in it, that a suit like this would befit a boy who had learned the right behavior for it's proper time. They inspired him with a vision of his future - of the refined and sophisticated and respected person he could become - of the man he would become in order to fill this suit.

G-d gifted the Jewish people the first temple, but because they were not faithful to him, it was lost. G-d gifted the Jewish people the second temple, but because they were not faithful to each other, it too was lost. The third temple is waiting for us. It's our future. It's waiting for us to grow up enough to be worthy of it. And on this shabbat, whether we're conscious of it or not, G-d gives our souls a glimpse of what awaits. He shows us the future temple - the world repaired and the pathways to him, to each other and to ourselves cleared. And then it's up to us to shape our present lives to match that vision.

The moments that give us a true glimpse of the end - that let us feel it's weight, it's finality - there is nothing like it in influencing the course of present action. And as uncomfortable and even terrifying as those moments of vision may sometimes be - calling on us to wake up, to get with the program, to count our numbered moments - there is nothing so valuable as a visit from the future to help shape your present into something you can be proud of.

Oh yeah, my dog. The rest of the family pulled into the driveway an hour later and there was the yap-yap-yap of joyful alarm from my parents' dogs...and Detzah, who had popped up join the party. "Yeah," my mom said when I told her I was sure Detzah had been fighting for her last breaths, "That's normal for her. When she knows someone's looking she just gets kinda sappy."

I had to laugh...and to thank my silly dog for bringing the future temporarily to my doorstep, reminding me that moments for growth and connection are mine for the taking right now - if I only have the eyes to see them.

Have you had a moment recently that brought your future temporarily into the present? How did it inspire you to tweak your current course of action?

If you liked this post, check out my other recent posts about grabbing onto the gossamer beauty of the present moment

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