Tales from the Park - Episode 6: Donovan, Thy Name Is Grace
October 26, 2017
NOTE: This was originally a Facebook post. I wrote it exactly one year ago today. And about a week before we'd have to say goodbye.
Fall has always been my favorite season. Like most of us, as the days grow shorter, I’m acutely aware, and a bit in awe of, the gorgeous melancholy of it all. The cooling days, the falling leaves, that stunning autumn golden light that floods the beach at sunrise and sunset, casting epic story-telling shadows in the sand and amongst the trees that are unique to this incredible time of year. The irony of so many beautiful endings and beginnings happening all at once, astounding.
It’s sad to say it, but death wanders quietly and peacefully here too (I guess it always does, right?). Though I think it does so now wearing it’s most beautiful, least-frightening clothes, as September and October step gently aside in a blaze of spectacular color and style for the colder, bleaker (but also so glorious in their own right) days that are sure to quickly follow.
The passing of the season seems not unlike what is happening now, as I watch time start to catch up with my dear, sweet, and so beloved dog.
This journey is not for the faint of heart, I’m finding. Anyone who’s done it will understand - and of course, it’s also no surprise. I knew these days would eventually come when Donovan’s joyous and courageous soul came bounding into my life. But as with every other moment of time I’ve been so profoundly lucky to have with this incredible dog, I am still so very grateful for having the chance to share these days. I am trying desperately to appreciate this time for what it is: an inevitable and unavoidable part of loving (and eventually losing, I suppose) another soul that you treasure so much - a soul so close to your own that you can’t begin to remember what life was like before they were beside you. In this time, while there is some sadness, there is also a gift - one that offers so many lessons of love, hope, patience, and optimism (even when the optimism part is especially hard to find) if we are willing to learn them (and god knows, I’m trying to be willing).
This is a chance, unlike any other, to prove your total devotion, support, and unconditional love- freely and in total abundance -when your best friend needs it most of all. I promised him that. And, to his very last breath, whenever that may be (I’m hoping sometime in 2038, give or take a decade), I will honor that promise, honor his life, and do the very best I can to make every moment he is with me to be the very best it can possibly be. I think he knows that. I pray with my whole soul that he does. It’s for damn sure he’s better at living in the now, with no complaints, no worries, and no expectations of what has been or will be to come, than I will ever be. I am trying to learn this from him before he goes. He’s a very patient teacher.
He is grayer now. He is sleeping more and eating less. The springs in his feet are not quite what they once may have been, and he uses them more judiciously. But there is so much, too, that hasn’t changed. So much of his soul that is, if anything, even MORE of all the things I’ve always loved about him. The essence of my dear sweet boy is here, and every day I celebrate that fact.
He is still his funny, opinionated, loving, wise and wonderful self. He still helps people find, and be, the very best parts of themselves (me included, of course). He still expects the royal treatment, regardless of the occasion, and prefers my husband’s hand-made fettuccine noodles to any other food, even meatballs. He still drops his head in my lap and drapes those giant paws across my legs, chasing bunnies as he naps. He is old, indeed.
His body is starting to fail him. But his SPIRIT is not failing. If anything, it is growing larger and more altruistic by the day. He’s trying to teach me how to live, as he does, before he goes and I imagine that can’t always be so easy. But we’re both doing our best to make it happen.
So this morning. After two sort of not so good days, I wasn’t sure what the daybreak would bring. But, as it does, when you least expect it, things turned around. Today he awoke and felt so good! He was excited to get up and head to his park. As soon as we got there, I found out why.
As anyone who regularly walks a dog can tell you, there are people on your route you don’t know by name - but do know by face or by activity. There is the ambitious college kid who looks (and moves) like a marathon runner. There’s the teenage girl with the spunky gray schnauzer. The younger woman with the quick-stepping big black dog who generally keeps her distance. The older woman in the North Face jacket whose story I told you all a few years ago. We are a community of sorts I guess…we say hello sometimes, and sometimes not, but there is a beauty to the routine of sharing the time together in that holy space by the water.
As we crossed over the rocks and into the grass this morning, I saw that the young man, in his sweatshirt and beanie cap, who does wind sprints along the rock line and sometimes stops by the water to sit and watch the sun rise, was making his way across the beach. Donovan saw him too, immediately started wagging his tail, and with a pep I’ve not seen in his step in some time, headed off to meet the kid with absolute determination and purpose. As we arrived, the jingling of the tags on D's collar made the kid turn around from where he’d stopped to sit, to look out at the ocean. We faced each other, D staring at him intensely as if meeting a long-lost soulmate - tail still wagging wildly and wearing his most wonderful crooked snaggle-tooth smile.
‘Sorry’ …I stammered. ‘My dog, he wanted to meet you and say hello.’
And in an instant, the kid looked at D, stood up, smiled a huge smile back, and came over to meet my boy. He kneeled down, wrapped his arms round D, and gave him an enormous hug. We laughed, bathed in sunshine and joy, and I told him how honored he should be - as D picks his friends quite carefully - and that on this morning, D wanted to meet him. And, with this knowledge, the kid absolutely beamed. And then he looked down at D, wrapped his arms round him again, breathed into his curls and said over a over in a thick, just beautiful accent...’God bless you….God bless you….Thank you sweet dog…God bless you.’
We said our good mornings and goodbyes, and then moved on.
A few minutes later, the woman with the black dog waved to me across the park and started making her way towards us. We have said a quick hello in the past, but never really talked. Last winter, she told me how much she loved D’s plaid red coat, and we traded abbreviated tales about our dogs. As she approached, this time, she called out to us ‘Hi there! I just…could I just tell you….your dog-he just looks so healthy and so happy today … he’s got so much spring in his step!’.
We started talking (as the two dogs, without complaint, looked at each other on the other ends of their leashes)…she told me she’d seen us walking recently and was worried as she too could see that he was struggling...how special he is - that she can tell that even from afar….and that today, especially, he seemed to be having such a good day because she’d noticed, too, that he had been slowing down. She asked his name, his age, his breed…we talked. D sat down and looked right at her, turning his head slowly to the side like a movie star as he does when taking in compliments, as she repeatedly said how you can just tell with him…he’s different…he’s charismatic and unique…he’s got soul….that she’d never met him personally, but had always admired him, had always wanted to meet him….that he is different, and so very lovely….that you can just tell.
Well, that’s true. You can. And he is.
We talked, and laughed. We exchanged names. She told me about her wonderful 11 year old opinionated black dog, and about losing her first dog, the only pal her current pup has ever loved. She talked about how hard it is to watch them get older. But that, like me, she wouldn’t trade one moment of this time (or any that came before) - both the good and the bad - to have them in our lives. She said that he is handsome. And how glad she was to see him.
We said we’d look forward to seeing each other again soon, and as we continued on our way in opposite directions, again, I realized….this incredible dog…my incredible Donovan…he does have something magical about him. You can see it from afar, even if the only place you’ve ever met him is from the other end of another dog’s leash in a big open park by the ocean. You can feel it when you hold him, when he looks up at you and smiles. When his vet tech (who doesn’t know your name but definitely knows his) screams DONOVAN with glee across the park and runs to see him when their paths cross unexpectedly. You can breathe it in like warm sweet light when he sighs as he sleeps beside you. Or laugh with him when he plops his big curly butt down into your lap, or hip checks you and pushes you out of his way because you’re in his spot on his couch.
He is my personal definition of grace, and of love.
The tides, and times, are changing. I know this. I feel it. I'm really struggling to find the strength to come to peace with it sometimes. And when day breaks, some mornings now are really hard and sad. But this was not one of those mornings. This was not one of those days. This morning I’d like to think I made D proud. I followed his lead, and we found the joy. This morning was spectacular.
As is my dog. And as is this life we’re living, together.
Hug your dog. Hug your friends. Tell your loved ones you treasure them. Kiss under the stars. Have dessert. Be upside down as often as you can. Fly and climb and drop. Do random acts of kindness. Drink the champagne. Paint rocks. Sing that song you love at Karaoke. Adopt older dogs who simply ask for your love, and for a safe and quiet place to rest then be amazed how they change your life in the very best ways forever.