My Old Friend

I began to miss her before she was ever gone. In my early twenties, I stood on a hand-built, wooden bridge one hot and humid summer night in rural Georgia, cheeks seared by salt-filled tears, drunkenly swapping sad dog stories and contemplating my owns aging—contemplating the elephant in the room toward which each of her additional years in this world hinted.

Scooby was a 40-pound mutt whose puppy innocence 17 years ago gave my family’s hearts respite from a pending reality of rough roads ahead. I lived closely with her from sixth grade through high school. She was a rock when much else seemed to turn to liquid and evaporate with time.

When a car hit Scooby during these years, she was bandaged, stitched, and drugged up. We left her alone for a brief time one evening as she healed. I was the first one home that night and found her lying on the floor near the front door, whining and covered in blood. She had torn away the stitches in her leg. Later, I found her blood near the door to my room where she had gone to try to find me. When I saw her like this, I was young and I didn’t know what to do, but I remember instinctively lying down next to her and holding her. I lied next to Scooby and held her because I knew that if ever I was in pain and couldn’t get up, she would come lie by me.

After graduating high school, I was always somewhere else, but I’d return to her—sometimes within weeks, but other times several months would go by. She was a beacon of stability at the same time that she was a reminder of the passage of time, the reality that this, too, one day will cease—that life back home continues its march to the infinite even when I’m 3,000 miles away.

I always knew I would never truly be ready for her departure from this earth, yet I can’t help but feel that she stuck around so long, so much longer than any of us could have ever imagined, for me. She held on long enough for me to be as ready as I could be for her goodbye. Scooby didn’t leave me with nascent inklings on what life and love may be—she left me with her refined wisdom on how to live and love with grace.

Through a divorce, and the uncomfortable new beginnings to follow, through love and loss and barrages of altering faces and places, Scooby always had an effortless ability to embrace change and transition with a whole heart of kindness and compassion. Her innate grace was one my mere human soul has had to actively work—and work hard for—to try to IMG_1068reach and instill as a part of my own immutable character. She welcomed everyone she met as they were without resentment, without judgment—with grace.

In Scooby’s final years, she learned how to simply be. Her process to this point was a blessing to watch, a parallel so entwined, but accelerated, to our own human experience that it left a heart tender, grateful, reverent, and full for this life.

As a child, she was curious and adventurous to a nearly damning point—venturing into busy streets, exploring the dung of the wild, putting her nose into others’ garbage. As a teen, she was hotheaded and brave, rushing to the protection of her family’s land and playing fetch to the point of steroidal obsession. In young adulthood, she was anxious, but not always sure why—trips to the beach riddled in nervous social tension.

But I’ll never forget that last trip the two of us took to the beach before her body wouldn’t let her carry herself that far anymore. She was calm and open to her environment. She stayed close to my side, and we sat quietly, peacefully watching the waves crash onto the shore. It seemed as if she knew this was going to be her last time there with me, and she didn’t fight it—she celebrated its silent beauty, its unspoken understanding, its gentle gift.

I missed her then, and I miss her now. I’ll miss her tomorrow, and I’ll miss her the days that follow. When I return home again, there will be a gnawing hole where she used to be, a reminder of the preciousness of time. But how glorious was her presence, how healing was her warmth. And in the words of Mary Oliver, now, “How beautiful is her unshakeable sleep.”

My old friend, goodbye.

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