No explanation. Just a moment captured.
I have seen this book on the shelves for quite some time. Yet, I never reached for it. Not even to read through its little synopsis on the back. I have this thing against reading a book whenever everyone else is reading it and raving about it. There is no real justification for this behavior, it is just a part of my reading practice. But I am so glad I finally made my way to it. It was the best way to end my summer of non-school related reading. And, it truly warmed my heart.
As a puppy mom, I admit to believing that my dogs, Buster and Bella, are special and unique. I admit that I have at times felt like they were humans reincarnated. That their eyes reflected a wise soul within and that they not only understood everything I was saying to them but that they also had the capacity to respond. Obviously not vocally, although sometimes they do bark, but through their gestures, touch, and cuddles. If I was not married to David, I would absolutely be a dog lady and I would take pride in it. Buster and Bella are members of my family not just family pets. For this reason, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein truly resonated.
From the very first paragraph I was completely hooked. I devoured the novel and its story of Enzo and his family. It beautifully wove the life cycle of the dog, Enzo, into the fabric of the family. Told from Enzo’s perspective, it created hilarious moments as Enzo explained what a dog does each day when owners leave, how dogs see their place in the family, and how this particular dog soaked up each life experience as a part of his education for the future when he would one day be reborn a human (as he saw on a TV documentary about ancient dogs in Mongolia). Dogs are observant, clever, and loyal. These beautiful qualities were reflected in Enzo. He was often present when no other human was for his owners. He watched Denny, his owner, go through life from a bachelor, to a married man, to a family man, to a man seeking solace and redemption after a series of heartbreaking events. But, Enzo is always there providing touching commentary, reflection, presence, and tons of comic relief.
One of my favorite moments from the novel is when Enzo is going to stay over night at a friend’s house as Denny will be away. Denny tells Mike, the friend, to bring Enzo to the house to collect his things, in particular to get Enzo’s toy stuffed dog by asking Enzo, “Where is your dog?” You see Enzo loves this stuffed dog, it is his best friend and he hides it during the day so that the little girl in the house, Zoe, doesn’t acclimate it into her own stuffed animal collection. It is a reflection that you could only hear from Enzo. From the human’s perspective, Enzo hiding the dog is a quirk but to Enzo it is a strategic tactic! Enzo’s narrative throughout the novel demonstrates love, fear, danger, redemption, courage, and, for me, he explained exactly what Buster and Bella must be thinking each and every day!
The end of the novel is inevitable. I read the last pages out loud while lying in bed with David. Our puppies slept quietly on the sheets between us as Enzo’s story concluded. Despite the tears I shed, I truly enjoyed the novel. It made me laugh and cry and it was a fantastic ride which in the end is exactly what racing in the rain is all about…
“He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave.”
On Wednesday, I went to visit my parents in Ohio. From the minute the plane touched down until Saturday evening when I flew back, we had such an excellent visit together. It is so sad to have my parents far away. But, I am just so appreciative of them, our visit, and all they continue to do in my life. From long walks along the lake to shopping to laughing as their new puppy, Daisy, ran around the house after their dog, Blaise, we soaked up each minute we had together. And, the latest addition to the family, a miniature beagle named Daisy, is just the sweetest littlest pup. She and I bonded a good deal. I would wake up early to play with her and Blaise outside before the house stirred and we would cuddle at night as she fell asleep. If I could, I would have snuck her home to Boston in my purse (because she would have fit!). Oh well, I will just have to get in my puppy cuddles with those two on my next visit for sure!
I noticed that there were two missed calls on my phone from my dad. A bit alarmed, I called him back immediately curious and apprehensive. “There is some bad news I need to share with you,” he said. His voice sounded pained. Someone was dying, I just knew it. “Chloe is at the vet right now, she went outside and when I called for her to come back in, she was unable to walk. She is paralyzed from the waist down,” as these words left my dad’s mouth and entered into my ears, I felt numb. What? How could that be?
Chloe is a mini-dachshund, a breed prone to this sort of injury. Four years ago, Chloe’s buddy, Ruby, another family dachshund died from this injury. I knew at this phone call that there would be little that anyone could do for her…ultimately, she would be put down. This idea of putting an animal down breaks my heart. Chloe was nothing but love and affection personified. She has no idea that her little body is irreparable and that while she rests in the vet’s office that her humans are contemplating the options including the one that ends her life.
Thanksgiving break 2005, I came home from college and roped my nanny into going to the mall with me “just to look” at the puppies. The mall was packed with people looking for something to do in the cold winter months and so they settled on walking around the mall and window shopping. We slipped into the puppy shop and made our way to the windowed pens. That’s when we saw Chloe. She was SO tiny and nestled in sleep with another puppy of some sort as her pen-mate. We oohed and aahed at her tiny features and asked if we could hold her. Holding her was a big mistake. How does one hold a little sweet puppy and then return it to its cage, seriously? We signed the paperwork, bought a cage, some food, and toys and took little Miss Chloe home with us. When my dad came home from work that night, I vividly remember wrapping Chloe up in a blanket and bringing her to the front door to greet him. He was only momentarily shocked by the new addition. As a true pet lover, he smiled, took hold of the blanket and welcomed her to the family.
Chloe was a loyal dog. At 12 pounds (she was a little plump for her size), she cautiously guarded her family. My parents moved from our childhood home in the summer of 2007. This was the same year that a group of my college roommates and I decided to sublet an apartment in Boston together. It was our first! Needing a place for Chloe while they moved locations, Chloe came to Boston and lived with us from June through September. One afternoon, while walking the city streets together this suburban dog who was skittish around the big city noises, “protected” me from a male pursuer. We walked past this particular man on the street and he let out a cat call, when we turned around to head back home, we ended up walking past him again. This time, he made a move towards me. Perhaps to grab my wrist, but who knows. Chloe sprung up on her back legs (a major feat of strength for a pup that is a long hot dog shape), and barked viciously at the man. While I knew he presented no real danger, I was shocked by her display of loyalty and fearlessness. The man chuckled and said, “Ah, look at this one foot killer” and walked on.
Once my parents moved to their new house, I only saw Chloe on vacations. As she got a little older, she had the fishiest breath and loved to stick her little stinky tongue out at you while she rolled over onto her back for a belly rub. She crawled into my lap and curled up as I sat crossed-legged on the floor. She was the best cuddle-bug ever. So easygoing and just desperate for affection, she stayed beside me for our visit together. At night, she put herself to bed in her cage. At exactly 8PM each evening, she would waddle herself over to her cage, burrow under her favorite fleece blanket and go to sleep. She was such a sweet dog.
Now, sitting here in Boston, knowing that today she will be put down breaks my heart. I cannot hold back the tears when I think of it. Death is of course part of life and my friends have been so kind in checking in with me. They say comforting things like, “She was a good dog,” and “She won’t be in pain anymore.” I know they are right. These cliches are always “right” in a sense. But, it still doesn’t soothe the situation. We bring these little critters into our lives, make space for them in our hearts and homes, and know that we will inevitably outlive them. We invite this heartache because we know that before we have to say goodbye to them, they will bring love, happiness, and lots of licks and pets into our lives. But, it still hurts…it hurts a lot actually…
Crying over the phone last night with my friend Kellyanne, she told me a story. She said that a vet once went to a family home to put down a very old Irish wolfhound. It was clear that is was time, and the family sat around their dog and cried while the vet prepared his materials. The vet noticed that the smallest member of the family, a little boy, was not crying. He asked the little boy, “Do you know what is about to happen?” The little boy said, “Yes, you are about to put my dog down and he will stop living.” At this, the vet asked, “Exactly, and are you okay?” The boy replied, “Yes. We are put here on earth to learn how to love unconditionally. It takes us humans a long time to figure this out so we die when we are very old. But, dogs they already know how to do this, so they are not on Earth for very long.” Chloe knew how to love unconditionally and I will miss her little self forever.
Thursday was madness. The news networks were projecting white out conditions and a blizzard that would rival the blizzard of ’78. I checked the weather channel obsessively at work. Could a snowstorm this big really be heading for Boston? The focus in the classroom was nonexistent. What was scientific management and how did it revolutionize how stuff is made? The question hung in the air as the sixteen students turned meteorologists whispered predictions to one another about the “inevitability” of a snow day tomorrow. In that moment, I did not want to be the adult in the room. I wanted to come around the table and join in the speculations about the inches of snow and when schooled would be called. Of course, I did not give in to these temptations and played it off as though a blizzard was no big deal. I reminded the students that while a snow day may occur, that we were currently in school now and they had a test next week. This even sounded ridiculous coming out of my mouth! They knew, and I knew, that while we did work, we were all still thinking about the snow.
The end of the day came and it felt like the day before Christmas or perhaps the day before summer vacation. We said good-bye as though we were not going to see each other for a long time and headed as fast as we could home. I stopped on the way home for groceries. Whole Foods was wild! People were snatching everything they could off the shelves. I went in with a set list of snacks, comfort foods, and dinner ingredients we would need for a long weekend snowed in. But, in the madness of the aisles, I felt my rational, list-centered mind go rogue as I too started knocking items into my basket as though the end of the world were approaching and this would be the last loaf of bread I would ever get my hands on. Avoiding accidents in the parking lot, I got David at the T stop and we raced home…for the next three days.
Friday morning the snow fell slowly and lightly to the ground. We shoveled once and mostly relaxed. Reading, writing, a little bit of work, and a whole lot of snuggling with hot beverages occupied our day. We were delighted to be snowed in together. It was not until this morning when we woke that the full magnitude of the snow struck. Twenty four inches and counting lay on the ground. Part of us wanted to stay in all morning, let the snow fall and pile and pile up. But, our little puppies needed to go out. Gosh, I wish they were potty trained, haha! So this is what the morning looked like for us….
My parents will arrive in Boston today. They are driving in from Ohio to celebrate our first Thanksgiving with us in our new home. On Wednesday, David’s mom and step-dad will be joining our little party. It is very exciting to embark on our first holiday and plan and prepare not only the foods for the table but also introduce some new traditions. In light of this exciting time filled with anticipation, I want to share my thankful list. One item for each day of November leading to Turkey Day:
1. For my husband David. I admire him for his commitment to our family, his passion for his interests, and his playfulness that permits me to be totally myself and to know that when I let my hair down, David is there to love me completely.
2. For our home. Little did we know that we could afford a home let alone the one we found. The shelter, space, and warmth it provides is a blessing.
3. For our families. Without the constant love and support of our inner circle David and I would not be who we are today. The lessons in respect, empathy, compassion, and love that they each shared with us continues to shape us.
4. For our health. It can often be taken for granted but we are lucky to be healthy and able-bodied and to use this gift to share with those around us.
5. For our jobs. Finding one’s passion is a life long journey and while we cannot predict the future of where we will be and what we will be doing, right now we are lucky to each be satisfied and inspired by our “jobs.”
6. For our puppies. Friends often ask, “Do you regret having dogs?” And, yes while sometimes it is hard to wake up in the morning and trek out into the snow with them, our puppies are very much a part of our family and us. Life would not be the same without these little souls.
7. For our country. While not everyone is satisfied all of the time with the politics of the nation, in the end, we are lucky to live in a country that seeks to represent the people, that allows men and women to vote for its leaders, and that continues to evolve to fit the needs of its changing demographics.
8. For our friends. Living so far from our families is often lonely and without our friends we would be lost. The ladies and gents of our life here in Boston continue to remind us of how lucky we are to have made a surrogate family here.
9. For our state. There is something about New England that calls to my soul. Perhaps it is the history of this space or the people or the scenery or everything! I am proud to live in a state that offers the charms of the beach and the mountains and that is open to accept the love of all people regardless of the gender of their partner.
10. For my education. My parents have instilled in me the importance of education and using this gift towards not only advancing oneself but one’s community. I am honored that my parents invested their time and hard earned money so that I could attend my dream college and be exposed to the experiences that led me to today.
11. For creativity. Our brains are powerful, unique, and talented. When given the space and the inspiration, its creative powers can be utilized to help the community and solve world problems. When we work together our creativity does so much good.
12. For hobbies. This is a luxury and the ability to change hobbies, invest in interests, and spend time getting to know one’s inner talents is a gift.
13. For the internet. I have more computing power in my fingertips today than people had a generation ago. The ability to connect with individuals around the world, to share experiences, news, and information across global boundaries is incredible. Freedom of information is central to the progress of humanity.
14. For our travels. Being able to take time to visit other countries from Italy to France to Canada to Costa Rica has broadened our horizons. Experiencing new cultures and sharing in the life experiences of new communities is indescribable and I wish we could do it even more often!
15. For our nieces and nephews. Yes, I thanked our families earlier, but I wanted to make a special shout out to our littles. It is so amazing to watch our siblings turn from brothers to fathers and the littles bring a completely new life experiences to us.
16. For standing on the top of mountains. When we hike to the top of a small summit the view is breathtaking and reminds us of how lucky we are to be alive, and how we need to continue to protect our planet and its environment.
17. For being able to laugh. They say that laughter is the best medicine and being able to take a moment to be goofy each day keeps us not only sane but reasonable =)
18. For being financially secure. This is a precarious state of being in our times. It is very important for us to be thankful that right now we have made good and sometimes just plain lucky decisions that have lead us to a stable place.
19. For Pad Thai. Mmmm this is a little frivolous but I am so thankful for my favorite food and for sharing it during mealtimes with friends and family.
20. For science. Without science many of the medical advances that have extended the duration and quality of our lives would not be present today. Similarly, it is important to continue to invest in the sciences and in science education as we begin to confront the challenges that will face us and our planet in the future.
21. For volunteers. Taking time out of our busy lives is not easy. For those who do so, I am thankful for your work with animals, the elderly, the kids, the poor, the sick, those in need, and the many other places that need a few more hands on deck in order to raise the quality of life for someone or something greater than just oneself.
22. For our servicemen. To volunteer for combat and to possibly give one’s life for your country and for the safety of its people is the ultimate sacrifice. Thank you to all of our troops who are serving around the global this holiday season and everyday so that we can live comfortably and securely at home.
And thank you for reading this post and encouraging me to continue at this blogging thing!