Genesis 2:18 ESV
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
I can count the days that it’s been since I’ve last written for you. I can count the days I’ve spent drumming my thoughts against a blank space in the walls of my apartment, trying not to let the quarantine get to me. I can count the words in the novels I’ve written, but there is one thing I cannot count…
The blessings I’ve been given.
It has been 18 days since one of my best friends closed his eyes forever. Since then, I’ve been jerked around, tangled up and malformed with pain and anger. I’ve counted the flowers in our “yard.” I’ve timed every moment of playtime with my own loveable fluffball, and still I carry sorrow inside of my heart.
18 days ago, my incredible mother came to visit us in the middle of the day, I assumed because we’d not been to visit in a while. She sat down on our couch as I told her about work, and my fiancée explained the troubles of her heart. We confessed our pain to her and she took it in stride despite coming to us with something that is infinitely worse than whatever I was going through. Early in the morning that day, her dog, Weechee, passed away.
If you’ve been around for any amount of time here you’ve heard me talk about this incredible companion and the wonders that he had brought into my life. He was a purebred Australian Shepherd, but more than that he was love and light bundled up in mottled fur and bright blue eyes.
I can count the years I’ve suffered through migraines, laid upon my couch in the darkness praying that they would go away, some so bad I’ve wished for decapitation to be the doseage to save me. I can’t, however, count the times he’d laid by my side and waited until I felt better.
I can tell you with some level of certainty that when I was younger, I cried in secret more times than I didn’t cry at all, but I can’t tell you how many times I came home after a hard day and knelt down on the verge of tears as he approached with no provocation and sat by my side until I stood up and continued on.
Months back, he had a fall down the stairs. Then, we worried that he would need to be put down. He was suffering with mobility issues for a long time, and as we took him to the vet to fix his leg we feared the worst. When he emerged he was laying peacefully on the vet’s bed and panting. A side effect of the painkillers they’d given him to get him a cast and send him home to be with his people.
That’s something about animals that I’ve always been amazed by. Last year when we got our puppy, Molly, she bonded to us immediately. We hadn’t even gotten home before we both vowed to do everything we could to keep her happy and healthy and safe. I’ve long made fun of the clichéd “dog parents” who treat their dogs like kids and dress them up in vests and fishing hats, but deep down there is some of that inside of me as well. Last Christmas I fought with her for an hour or more to get a silly picture of her in a Santa hat which never got taken. She knocked the hat off as soon as my hands left her head, but I’ll give her that. She is still a puppy.
Even still, I think of new moments every day that Weechee came to us in times of struggle and helped us. Simply by being alive. Simply by being there. What kind of love is that, that he could bring us such joy by his mere presence. At night, he’d get me when mom was having trouble sleeping. I’d watched him on countless occasions peek downstairs to check on my dad while he was in the basement working on a project. He knew the lines and only crossed them when he needed to.
Like when I came home from out of state with a broken heart, feel free to pick an instance, there have been a couple. He laid down with me when I didn’t want to see anyone, let alone a stinky obnoxious dog. I told him that too, but he didn’t listen. He waited, by my side, until I felt that I could stand and move on. He’d been by our side for years, and shortly behind him was his best friend, their younger dog, Wickett. The much rowdier of the two, Wickett would cause trouble and yelp and bark, and Weechee was right there. I thought that perhaps it was because he was a bit daft, but I don’t think that is true.
I thought about it a lot when Weech got hurt last year, how silly a sentiment it is to pray for our pets. I’d grown up thinking they were companions, and that they had their own goals, their own dreams and aspirations. I don’t really see it that way anymore.
Weechee, just like my precious girl Molly, is there to support me however they can. They don’t have thumbs, they can’t talk to us, but they are there day in and day out. When we are on top of the world and when we are crushed by the weight, they are there, outside your office door patiently waiting to give you a big lick on the cheek.
So when I went to give Weech a proper send off with my father, I wondered if all this time I had been misunderstanding the dog, or the definition of companion. I think, on some measure it was both. My companions have always been my friends. Men and women who stand by me, lift me up when I am broken and heal me when I am wounded. They inspire me, support me and urge me on. At the same time, they really like to play games with me too. Doesn’t that sound just like a pup?
I felt silly, praying for Weechee, but what I said then still stands today, that this world is so harsh and so dark. It seems to be growing darker by the day and there is little we can do to stop it. Still, I think we haven’t learned everything we can learn from our canine companions. I think… on some level, they hold a secret that people have never really been able to make sense of.
Molly knows who is good and who is bad, just like Weechee did, just like Yak, my first good boy did. They protect us and they comfort us, and they know us inside and out. I used to get mad at Weech when he wanted to play because I was too busy, too filled up with tasks and numbers and purpose to spend time with him. He’d follow me around with his ball in his mouth regardless, waiting then like Molly waits now and it took me years to understand.
It isn’t the playing, or the petting, or the treats. It’s the companionship. I’d be remiss to admit my embarrassment that a dog understands a concept better than I do, but I’ve never known a person who is able to lift my spirits just by being beside them. My Sunflower comes close, but she does not have it the same way our dog does. When Molly wants to play, she wants to play. Sometimes because she has too much energy, but I think it’s more than that. I think she knows that at that moment, we really need somebody to throw a ball around with… And she won’t take no for an answer.
So today, as I think back over Weechee and Wickett, Molly and Yak, KC and Maggie and Girl and Ruby and all the other dogs I’ve been blessed to know… I am glad that I can’t count my blessings, because they are abundant in the darkest of times with tiny claw clicks on hardwood floors. I can still hear them sometimes, and I can feel them inside my heart.
God gives us gifts, His eternal love branches across multitudes of things. Things we so often see as jobs and promotions, as friends and churched as books and passions and music and art, the skyline at sunset and the smiles of our loved ones, but He shows us Himself I think most powerfully in the form of our pets.
I look at Molly and Weechee and I don’t just see a four-legged scruffy mess, I don’t see the pain in the ass that I spend hundreds of dollars on to make happy. I don’t see the little obnoxious monster that loves my socks. I see love packaged into a tiny, carefully designed package. Sometimes with bad hips, sometimes with wounds on their ribs, sometimes with tongues that dangle out the side of their mouths, but always…
Always with the feeling that God is here, and we are not alone.
Times are uncertain, but to my brothers and sisters I hope that now more than ever you can reach out and learn from God’s gift to us and love with such certainty that it takes no words for those around you to know. I hope we can learn to love like a dog does, like God does. Just by being there, that the world will know. I think more than anything, God’s glory shines through the eyes of a dog, and those are blessings that comes in such abundance that I will never be able to count them all.