I had to say goodbye to my my loyal companion of the last decade of my life. What a blessing to have ever known the devotion and love of an old dog. The end was a long time coming but the 'so long' finally found us. He hung on way past the time he could make it. On our last regular trip to the vet when I was trying to 'fix him' and make him all better and they started talking 'quality of life' and gently let me know that he really wasn't going to need an update on those vaccinations because time had grown as short as time does.
There is really no need for me to go into how faithful and loyal an old dog can be. Those of you who've experienced this know all so well. I've read your Facebook posts and mourned with all of those who have said goodbye. I've lost family pets and good dogs but I've never known a beast such as this. He was a constant, gentle presence in my life with the most serious mind-reading eyes. If I cried he came and leaned on me, larger than life, soaked my tears in his fur. My happiness was his happiness. Truly. All he asked in life was a little food and water - and me. Granted he had the whole family and loved every one. Tolerated grandchildren leaning and cleaving. One who followed him everywhere toddling with one hand clutching his fur and one thumb in his mouth.
It was twelve years ago this little creature came into my life. He was to be a present for my mother. I researched dogs and for some reason beyond comprehension decided the gentle giant of a Great Pyrenees was just the beast my mother needed. Something to fill in the large, empty space my Dad's passing had left behind. The little space her fourteen year old dachshund's passing had left. Looking back I guess I was searching for the largest animal that could roam the halls of home.
I traveled to a goat farm in Smyrna that had advertised Pyr pups for sale. Not the blue-blood variety with long lineage papers but the kind that had a working goat farm. A Daddy dog and a mama dog and a cage full of puppies. A litter of eight perhaps. All pressing their tiny faces to the bars saying take me, take me. In the end I picked one. He had the baby fur of all Pyrenees pups. Silky to touch. It's their first fur. Eyes large and almond. Most human. And loved to be cuddled. He rode in my lap all the way home. Spent one night with me then I drove off to Florida to deliver him. Eight hours later I was crying as I handed him over to my mother. The thought of leaving him behind left an ache in my heart I couldn't explain. Three days later when I was ready to head back Nashville way she released him and said, I think he might be too big for me when he grows up. Maybe I need a smaller dog." This is the heart of a mother. She couldn't take from me what was meant to be hers when it caused me such pain. I drove home with the puppy who would become BIG DOG TITAN in due time.
When I first moved to Nashville I saw a sign for doggy day care and thought - What kind of person would bring a dog to day care. Then I discovered it was me. My guilt trips are not limited to my children and so while I wrote grants at NSCC he popped in a few days a week for 'social time' with kids his own age. He used to sneak away when he was still a puppy and in a little while as I searched frantically for him he had gone to visit the other pups at Doggy-Do's.
He snuck off one night to visit some cows and didn't come back. I was beside myself with worry but got a phone call the next day from a woman in her 70's who said, "We think we have your dog here. I'm sorry I didn't call you yesterday but he's a really big dog and he's got a big mouth so I was afraid to reach down and read his tag. We've had him locked up in the goat pen all night."
By the time I arrived he was inside this tiny country house in the kitchen with the woman's mother who was 92. She looked at me and said, "He's nothing but a baby!" She told me this twice. He'd eaten fried chicken and greens and cornbread. Happy to see me, a big smile on his face, a full tummy. Yes, we all know that dogs really smile.
He was a road warrior that covered thousands of miles with me who'd rather spend eight hours in a car than five minutes out of my sight. He loved to put his feet on the console and stick his big head out the sunroof. Gave me those special eyes when I put on my shoes. The ones said, "We're going? You're going? I"m coming too right? Taking me too right? I'll go lay right in front of the door right now so you don't forget me." The sight of my suitcase depressed him unless he figured out it was a road trip where he could travel along.
In a photo shoot so many years ago for a book cover I asked if I could bring my dog so that I could just look at him. It was the only time I've had photos that weren't 'gently touched up' as they put it. Someone once told me in that photo, God threw you a bone. Which I thought was funny but it was Titan that had made me smile. Did I mention he gave hugs? Friends and family can attest to this. Writer friends who came and stayed on the way to their next gig always ended up having a little photo shoot with Titan before they left. Shellie called me one day and asked, "Am I imagining things or does Titan give hugs?"
The last few years have been terribly rough on the personal front and he was my stable grace. On the longest ride of my life, him with me every mile filling up the backseat, I'd constantly reach back to touch him, to ground myself in the continued realities of his love. He stayed by my side and it wasn't until he passed that I realized how much he had tethered me to this world through that storm. He was my silent, strong. He showed me both what it was to be loved by God - because surely it is this absolute and unconditional - and what my loving God might look like if I could be half as true.
In the last months of his life he needed help to make it up the stairs because he had started to fall. He needed a fan in his face to help him breath when he slept. He had entered his elderly years yet I remained his sun. He still managed to bounce on his feet and run around in big circles when I came home. Desire overpowering his able. And, I think that desire to see me through the hard places had overpowered his able for a long time. But the night came when he couldn't go on, was in horrible pain and the next morning my sister met me at the vets for one last trip.
She brought her favorite soft blanket and a little fan to blow in his face. I sat on the floor, held his big head in my lap, said, "Good dog," over and over again. Best dog ever. So in that way he went to sleep with his head in my lap, my sister holding that fan to his face. Crazy to have these kind of luxuries when the world has gone mad and people are hurt and dying everywhere yet, in the final hour for anyone we love, family and friends, for a soldier in arms who has served by our side, we would wish a peaceful passing.
I will never have another dog like this in my life. Not like this. And, I had sworn to my mother I'd never have another dog period. No cat. No dog. No fish. No nothing. I'd be free to be me and travel when I needed and not search for sitters. No loving no nithing. But then a dog that ate in the trash, wandered the roads, got hit by a car, never had a bath, was matted and ticked, showed up at the house before Titan died. He officially belonged to a neighbor in that when they yelled he was supposed to show up. I started sneaking him food, putting a blanket out for him when it was freezing and he was left in the cold.
Soonater we said good-bye to Titan I left for Florida to continue packing for Mom's move for the 1000 time. In my absence, my sister paid a special visit with the neighbors and had a special conversation. When I returned the dog known as Kevin had been shaved, had his shots, wore a collar. He sleeps now on the floor as I write this. He's too young to snore. He is thankful for kindness, for food, and wants to be loved, to be petted or receive a gentle touch. Things all foreign and new to him. I've tried to tell him, it's not fair to you - you know. I had a great dog once. And, you'll never be him, can't be him. Kevin the dog we call buddy just looks at me as if - It's ok. I'm just happy to be here. I'll take what you've got. Even leftover love. It's more than I've known. I have pictures of this transformation I'll post later this week.)
There will never be another Big Dog Titan in my life. But God's teaching me that love's not just for one season. It's a perpetual thing. That it grows in the giving not in the keeping away.
CS Lewis wrote:
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal."
I have given my whole heart and I'm learning to give it again.
Looks like I've made it. I've got the Big Corner Office. A Great view over the city. Steaming Java courtesy of Fido's. Here's the deal. A lot of people who dream of being a writer want the romance of a lifestyle often afforded to the rich and leisurely lifestyles of the rich and famous. But there is so much more behind the page and beyond the view going on. Always.
On this particular day I did cop a corner office with a view for a few hours of writing and research. Poet and Writers mag opened and at the ready to find those hidden places writers can apply for a little time and quiet to get a few good words down. But all of that - the moment of freedom, the financial upturns, the kudos from readers (most important) or from critics (greatly appreciated) isn't the whole picture.
For one thing - when I learned that I was a writer I didn't know squat about a lifestyle. Couldn't tell you if a writers life was different than a farmers or a judge. So it wasn't a lifestyle that called me. It was a calling.
When I was a little girl my mother read Four Little Kittens to me. It was one of the books that I would say - Again - Over and over. Wore it out. Here's the premise - A barn cat has four little kittens who one day ask their mother before they go out into the world to please tell them what kind of cats there are. So she sits up, half closes her green eyes and begins to tell them about the other cats in the family and what they were. Ships cats, Alley cats, Barn cats. But one little kitten tried all those things and none of them felt right until finally he was picked up in a dark alley and taken home to a little girl. Then he discovered he was a cushion and cream cat - in other words - a house cat.
Most of us spend much of our young lives trying to discover what kind of cats we are. As a little girl I had a cowgirl outfit with fringe. I don't ride horses although I still like fringe. Being a cowgirl wasn't my destiny. I also had a red painters smock and I loved to paint. But I didn't grow up to be a painter. I can skate like the wind but I didn't grow up to become s roller derby queen. I danced like crazy to everything I heard and I still love to dance but I didn't grow up to be a professional dancer.
But I grew up in the lap of story - that is all things southern. Heat lightning, long summers, family stories , a front porch. A wild tribe of cousins. Pick up trucks and back roads. Creeks and crazy. Jesus fans in tiny back woods churches.
By sixth grade I was writing prayers and poems with a slight sophistication so that my teacher requested a conference with my mother to tell her - She's a writer. (many of you know that story so hang in here) That moment was the aha moment of my life. It was my four little kittens moment where one knows what one IS. I didn't know anyone in the family who was a writer. I didn't know anyone in the whole entire world who was a writer. But suddenly I knew I was one. And from that moment on there was nothing in my life that I pursued that wasn't related to that. No matter how many jobs I had to support myself or my children - the inside story was the true was. I was a writer. A Storyteller. It was my destiny. Still Tis. On stage, page, or on air. Same, same.
The first time I went to college it was on a small scholarship for broadcast journalism. I'd been broadcasting in my senior year under the awesome mentoring of teacher Anna Kelly. She recognized something in me that meant business. A desire to discover the truth. To find the story, to tell the story. So my path led that far. To a college station and doing the news. To learning to drop my W's. To enunciate on occasion. To sound much less southern than I am.
Years later I returned to college in Pensacola at the beautiful campus of UWF and fell into a playwriting class while studying broadcasting and journalism. I met Dr. Yolanda Reed and a handful of young writers (God, we were still all so young looking back) It was pretty much perfection. A moment, a Zeitgeist, Kismet, Divine Intervention - the turning point of things to come. It was in this group I found my voice. The tone and timbre of things to come.
Then life. More life. Thousands of words. The publication of one novel, two novels, three novels, four novels, a collection of essays, and a book titled Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit. To a mystery novel completed but not rewritten. To a spiritual memoir under contract and due soon.
Then all hell broke loose. I went through a dark season that seemed to have no end and to a separation that ultimately led to divorce. Which I will not discuss. Period. Let the past bury the past. Let seasons change. Count all good times and good blessings, every answered prayer, every precious Divine moment clasped and kept. As old Frank once sang, Regrets, I've had a few but then - too few to mention.
Point of all being - I stopped writing. What I had written when I returned to the page to rewrite I didn't like. I didn't feel like I was at that place anymore because I wasn't. My life, my experience, my hopes, my dreams had changed. It took me awhile to stop lamenting and look forward.
When a writer loses their words it's a sad day. In the midst of all the good fortune, the company of my children, the delight of my grandchildren, the treasure of my sister, my mother and the laughter of cousin Deb - the prayers of readers, the toasts of good writer friends - there is still the silent emptiness where the words should come but the well feels dry. Painful. And in that silence there is a fear that is unnamable. It is the untouched truth, the silent cry, the disrupted truth.
But time and angels wings heal wounds. Salty tears. And a courage that finally shows up strong enough to face down the angriest winds of regret and remorse. That stands like flint in the sandstorm. Rage on. I will not bend. Not again. God's got this, always did, always has.
And has always known that I'd come back to the words. That I'd sit down and open up a vein and begin again. Sure nuff.
Final rewrites on Confessions of An American Mystic: Stories and Faith and Fiction and - - - (subtitle still in progress) near completion. That rewrite on the mystery novel right behind it. Circling the final
chapters on the Sugar Baby novel and the completion of that new dystopian novel I'm 30,000 words into - soon thereafter. This year I am praying that God will give back the years the locust have eaten. For me. For you. For us. In spite of EVERYTHING.
Time to move forward by moving on and stop pretending to be someone else. Someone quieter, smaller, weaker.
Oh, I do believe I feel a rooftop coming on.