Man and Dog: Part Two

They say you become like the company you keep. Keeping company with good people is like being planted in good soil. You get strokes, you get laughter, you get someone who’s happy when you get home, someone to play and talk and eat with, someone to witness the little stuff of life that the rest of the world doesn’t care about.

When you get what you need, you rest easier, you feel loved, you know peace, you give back. And that’s the circle as it should be, the way of the world s.k.a. (sometimes known as) you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours. This wonderful reciprocity can also, and blessedly often does, happen between man and dog, woman and dog, child and dog. (I will let someone else speak for cats.)

Back in February I told the story of a man and a dog who finally met, who became best buddies, whose mutual devotion should be the standard upon which all man-and-dog stories are measured. I think they had been looking for each other for a long time. Max had been penned up outside (regardless of temperature or precipitation) for most of his eight years. Joe had been dogless since his last black lab had died ten years earlier. Joe took Max home from the shelter. I love how in this photo Joe is not at all interested in me holding a camera. He is completely interested in Max.

Joe and Max.2mp.jpg

When I suggested recently that Max was a very lucky dog, Joe said, “I was lucky as well. That’s the best part. We both won.”

Since February, every time Joe was going to come over, I’d say Bring Max if you want. And when he came I’d say Where’s Max? Max was an older dog with a rough prior life; he was not without some physical challenges. Getting from ground level into the cab of Joe’s truck was too difficult for him. “I need to build him a way to get in,” Joe would say. Fair enough, I’d hope for next time.

This story is supposed to have a happy ending. Joe and Max were supposed to be good for each other henceforth, faithfully and indefinitely. I had no doubt about the faithful part but I was shocked twelve days after the sad news about Micah, a week after the 5K race benefiting Hospice of the Piedmont, and four days after the CASA induction ceremony. I got a message from Joe: Max died today. I’m sorry I didn’t share him more.

No! That’s not okay! NO! Joe took Max in just three months ago, loved him, did everything possible to make a wonderful life for him. Max would never again spend a night alone outside when the temperature was in the single digits, never again pass a day without care and love. Max gave back, listened, played, became Joe’s buddy, made him laugh and wagged his tail happily when Joe got home from work.

It seems to have been Max’s time. Nothing dramatic happened. He was just breathing hard on the porch, Joe helped him inside, and twenty minutes later it was over. Still, c’mon, really? Max? Joe’s Max?

Within two weeks, I got four separate yanks at my heart, four separate reminders that Bad happens.

Why did Micah have to die now? Why do people get terminal illnesses? Why are children sometimes abused and neglected? Why did Max have to die now?

Yet these same yanks were coupled with reminders of so much Good in the world. Within the Bad, the crushing, devastating, heart-wrenching Bad, when we are able to see (and this does not always happen right away), we invariably find pockets of hope, rays of light, stores and stories of benevolence. We find exceptional people trying hard, being kind, showing faith. We experience surprising, heartening moments of peace.

Micah had the most loving, supportive family anyone could want or hope for. He is so dearly and deeply missed. If you really love, is there ever enough time? Thanks to Chris and Brian and everyone else in Micah’s circle for always hoping, always praying, always loving.

Anyone in my community who gets a terminal illness does not have to die alone or in pain. Thanks to Hospice of the Piedmont for giving people a way to help, for organizing care for those who would otherwise struggle much more than they need to. 

Children in my community who need an advocate have someone who will get to know them and will make recommendations on their behalf in family court regarding matters of far-reaching importance. Thanks to CASA for overseeing the efforts to make sure these children have someone looking out for their best interest.

Joe and Max found each other, even if their time together was nowhere near long enough. If you really love, is there ever enough time? Thanks to Joe for showing how very mutual love really is, for being with Max when his time came, for keeping his heart open.

How much of every 24 hours gets wasted? Beyond the necessary tasks of the day, beyond necessary sleep, how much time might we wish we could get back and spend some other way? How well are we using the gift of time that we have? How well do we show love – that’s right, show love – to those in our lives who matter the most?

I think about this often. I get 24 hours, just like everybody else. I can’t do everything, but when I look back, I want to be able to say I used my time well. I want to be able to say I did something – something important, something valuable, something wonderful. I hope everyone can say that. I hope everyone wants to. (I know they can’t and don’t. But I can wish it.)

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