The clock ticked, the fire simmered…
An odd sound then, something like a sneeze.
He peered around. In a corner, the Jack Russell sat motionless in a wing chair.
“Bless you,” he said, keeping his voice low.
The dog cocked its head to one side and looked at him. It was a steady look, conversational in feeling. He’d read somewhere that dogs don’t make eye contact.
– Jan Karon, In the Company of Others
In rare and wonderful moments, I’ve met people who look openly yet comfortably into my eyes and make me feel as though so many more-than-real and moving words are there… in our eyes… without ever being spoken. A connecting through the “windows of the soul.”
Dogs do that instinctively, luminously. Books of love…in their eyes.
It’s been 30 years since I lost the dog companion of my childhood… a beautiful sheltie- beagle-cocker-mix, with a world of words in her deep chocolate eyes… and yet, she still lives. For whenever I dream of the people of those days, she is there… a living video in my mind. Sometimes even now when I feel a slight stir of my bed as I move in my sleep, I can suddenly awake to think – for just a moment – it’s Dusty, jumping up to be with me! So is the power of once loving a dog.
She was deeply a part of our family – an inside dog – and as such, had free reign throughout our home. We even swore she watched TV with us as she sprawled out in our midst, her hind legs flat across the carpet, her eyes looking forward, every now and then ears cocked at all the “right” show moments. And I just knew she loved the music I loved, for didn’t she always rush to sit with me whenever I pulled out a favorite record?
If one of us was sick, she’d make a beeline to nestle her soft fur in the crook of our knees, her warm eyes meeting our sad ones with ‘words’ of comfort. If one of us – including a friend who was like another kid in our family – was gone even one day, coming home was like being greeted by an all-out band as she’d leap over us, literally crying out her joy. And every night, without fail, would find her positioned staring at the front door until my dad walked in, her internal clock telling her it must be soon!
Coming home meant Dusty was waiting… and the moment we raced in from school, hers was the first name we’d call out. So much so, we’d even find ourselves rushing in after vacation to find her, only to realize with a let down that of course she was gone at the vet, until opening time next day. She was a one-home, one-family dog, as she peevishly let us know in no uncertain terms after her rare vet stays, coolly keeping her distance those first days home, as if to scold, “you left me!” But, in true friend style, she couldn’t keep it up… until, as if with amnesia over our petty crime, she remembered only…love.
From a pup, she quickly learned the sounds for things that lit her world like the Fourth of July. Like the scrape of the carrot peeler as my mom prepared dinner. With a sudden bang and a boom from wherever she was, including knocking her head against the frame beneath our beds, Dusty would dash madly for the kitchen to beg a raw carrot, then sit holding her prize straight up between her two front paws as she chomped it down. If she heard any phrase that sounded like “go for a walk” – such as “four o’clock” – it was her signal to tear for her leash. And to never take “no” for our answer.
In nearly every family photo that documents our growing up years…she is there. Sharing times of joy, marking times of tragic loss… I’ll always remember the way my dad’s voice choked as he gently wrapped her spent body in a blanket to carry her out the day she left us…the tears in us all for so many moments blessed with her love. And, like Father Tim in Jan Karon’s books, I remember her “conversations” with us and breathe a bless you… even now.
Today, I know some good friends are sorrowing over their goodbye to their own family companion. A winsome ball of fluff who spoke the world through his eyes too…as always, gone too soon. (Annie, Jeff, Jonah and Jack…I’m so sorry.) And I think…Bless you for all you gave, too, Knuckles… you were well loved, and loved well. You will be missed…even as you stay in the hearts of those who treasured you best.
One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend. –Proverbs 22:11
The dog in this episode – a true lookalike to my old dog