Its always stunning and a bit disarming to realize how our own personal narrative can be interrupted, or jarred; how the path of our life can be thrown off course, and how some events have the power to circle round, and bring us back to the sobering realities of pain and perseverance.
I was out on a run, on a still and unsettled early November day. Daylight savings had just occurred, and the long angle of the light was casting its subdued shadows. One of my running partners was now gone. Families have many guest and friends who show up in their span, and a little poodle was one of the friends who showed up in ours.
He was a happy, intentional accident. We needed a dog without dander. We wanted a dog for the boys. We all wanted a little more companionship, the kind only a pet can bring. And so, we ended up with Rex. He was two years old. He’s previous owner had passed away, and so Rex needed a new home, and ours would be it.
From his first sprint across the backyard of our home we knew there was an energy and affection that would be unbounded for this “too-tall” miniature poodle. Rex quickly warmed up to our family and settled into habits and hearts that surprised and made all of us so very happy. One of these strange habits was that Rex was in fact a runner. As small as he was, he loved to run. These weren’t frequent runs, as he’d also settled into the habit of being his mom’s dog. If given the choice he would prefer to sit with Kay, on her lap most often, and find contentment being the focus of someone’s attention.
On the occasion when he would run, Rex would run! Loops around Sloan Lake, a local 5K race (which he was the first dog to cross the finish line!) or a muddy run through the trails of Northern Michigan, Rex was that indomitable force far larger than is diminutive stature should have allowed. Barely 15 pounds, a miniature poodle body, with the lankyest legs; they should have been brittle, but their fleetness carried that little body with the most graceful ease.
But not that day, not that run. In fact, there wouldn’t be any more running. Rex was gone. An immune-ravaging virus had been tearing the little dog apart for close to 18 months, and it finally succeeded in not only ravaging his body, but also his spirit. His days were chaotic and stress filled. Selfishly we held on too long. Unable to navigate the home that had been his castle, and with internal organs shutting down, it was time to Rex to be free from his pain.
We all navigate these events differently. Grief isn’t kind, it penalizes you when you think you are making a positive stride. I thought I was out to clear my head, and honor our little companion. Instead I was building a wall, a wall that would take on greater and greater reinforcement over the next few months. It was just a run, but it set the course for why I have been running scared for the past ten years. A few days later Kay and I had a conversation, and in that conversation was the realization that not only had a little dog died, but that something else had died. And, without knowing exactly what, something was going to engulf us all, and that grief was going to be our companion for a very long time. For me, I just started running, scared.