Today is a good day. I want to relish it because bad days are the ones we typically remember and rehash, even though both are a necessary part of the cycle of life.
King Solomon–once touted as the wisest man on earth–wrote often about life’s ups and downs. It drove him crazy until he made his peace with it. “There is a time for everything … a time to be born and a time to die … a time to weep and a time to laugh … time to mourn and a time to dance,” he wrote. (Ecclesiastes 3)
I was thinking about his words as I sat today on our patio in beautiful weather, watching our new puppy Toby snooze contentedly at my feet. Definitely a good day. But it unexpectedly triggered a sad day many years ago involving another dog.
The dog’s name was Tillie, a majestic Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and a 100 lb. hunk of burning love. When her master died of cancer much too young, Tillie came to live with me. We were both hurting. She, from the loss of her owner, and me, from the departure of my husband and the death of my previous marriage. She seemed almost relieved that she now had a new assignment. Me.
She set the ground rules right from the start. Her walk came first each day or there would be no peace. Her bark resembled a herd of stampeding buffalo and caused grown men to jump. Friends often remarked no burglar would dare intrude. But, truth be told, if burglars came with treats in hand, she’d take a vow of silence and lead them to the jewelry.
Each day as I worked at my desk, she lay sleeping at my feet, just like Toby does. The strategy allowed long naps without dereliction of duty, since any attempt to leave the room without her would draw immediate detection. She shadowed me as earnestly as someone in the Witness Protection Program. It was, after all, her job. When she thought the hours at my desk had been sufficient, I’d feel an insistent pawing on the back of my chair, followed by a cold nose nudged under my armpit, demanding I pay more attention to her. Another walk was her preferred solution.
The hours at the river were the best. Walking its banks cleared my mind of the residue of too many deadlines and too little time. Tillie seemed to understand those walks were more for my sake than hers. We’d stop at a favorite spot and sit shoulder-to-shoulder, lost in thought, watching the water make its way downstream.
Then one day it was her turn to leave. It wasn’t her decision. Her body decided it was time to go. Her legs went first, refusing to cooperate, and then her spirit took a hit. I saw it in her eyes: Who will do my job?
Her final night she couldn’t climb the stairs to take her post beside my bed. Tenderly, I moved her bed to the foot of the stairs and, after gentle reassurances, retired for the night.
Near dawn, I woke up to slip downstairs and check on the one who always checked on me. But there she lay–alongside my bed as close as she could get–her body curled in the spot she’d warmed a thousand nights before. I don’t know how she did it—climbing the stairs that one last time. I guess she didn’t want me to wake up and find myself alone. It was, after all, her job–to make sure I was always loved and protected.
That’s why I believe dogs are God’s secret ambassadors. Dogs are a visual reminder of how God is with us and for us, loving and protecting us until it is our “time to die.” Like dogs, God love us unconditionally and thinks more highly of us than we deserve. Like our dogs, God never lets us out of his sight, our partner for the journey as we weep and laugh, tear and mend, speak and stay silent, just as King Solomon wrote.
Solomon was having a bad day when he initially wrote those words about the capriciousness of life. But eventually he came to the conclusion, “…everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.” (Eccl. 3:14)
The good days and the bad. God is there for them all. It’s his job. Dogs are his reminder.