Photo courtesy of Erica Lynn Imagur.com
“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love.
For me, they are the role model for being alive.”
“It’s love-time, Spirit”! I had finished putting away the left-overs from dinner and cleaning up the dishes. The rhythmic sound of the dishwasher signaled that evening was upon us and Spirit sat patiently next to her now-empty dish, waiting for what she knew would come next. “Love-time, Spirit!” I again made the call, this time a little more emphatically. Spirit jumped up and walked quickly toward the stairs in the hallway, stopping once to turn her head and see if I was following her. I smiled as I walked past her and up to the stairs. The door to Chris’ study was closed and there was no sound coming from inside – only a low light coming from under the door. I was accustomed to Chris disappearing after dinner every evening to work one of his many endeavors – homework from his graduate studies, preparation for his teaching the next day, or the manuscript he had been working on for ten years. Quietly, I made my way across our bedroom and lay down on the bed. Spirit followed me and sat next to the bed, waiting for my invitation. “Well, come on up.” I said, patting the bed next to me. She jumped up and arranged herself on top of me, putting her face between her paws on my chest. She gazed into my eyes and I began stroking her raven back fur on the top of her head. “You’re my angel, aren’t you, Spirit?” I cooed softly. Her eyes never left mine and I wondered what she was thinking. Maybe “I’m always here for you,” Or, “I accept you for who you are,” Or, “I love you unconditionally.” Okay, she probably wasn’t thinking any these things. But I always felt that our “love times” were profound and full of meaningful, unspoken communication. She made me happy.
As I continued to stroke her, my thoughts went back to the day I brought Spirt home from the county shelter, eight years earlier. My county animal shelter is a big, noisy place and I knew it would upset me to see so many unwanted animals. If I could, I’d take them all! I walked past pit bull after pit bull until I saw her – a little ball of black fluff shaking in the back of her cage. The shelter technician told me she was three months old and was a “give-up”, brought in just 1 hour earlier. She didn’t know any other details but it didn’t matter – she was mine now! My heart burst with joy as I held her in my arms. After all the paperwork was completed, I took her out to the car and carefully placed her on a towel on the front seat. After I sat down and turned on the ignition, I turned to her. She was still cowering and shaking. I picked her up and said, “Let’s go home.” Well, at that moment, she jumped up, started licking my face with joy and wiggling her little butt as fast as she could. It was at that moment that my life with Spirit began.
Over the years, Spirit was my constant companion. She grew from that little ball of fluff to what the vet said was probably half black lab, half border collie. We went on countless walks together – often down to a nearby stream where Spirit would plunge into the water, not caring if it was icy from a recent February storm or muddy from a spring thaw. She was fearless in her zest for life, showing me how life is meant to be lived in each moment. Those years were often rough for me. I often felt like it was about ceaseless striving. Being the ideal wife, the perfect mother, the successful career woman – nothing I accomplished ever seemed to be enough. Some of my fondest memories were moments of respite from that life, when it was life with Spirit. Sometimes, when I needed a break from the crisis of the day, I’d take Spirit up to our community playground. Spirit loved the slide! She would climb up the steps without hesitation, crouch down and slide down on all fours. Once down, she’d pull on her leash, dragging both of us back to the ladder so she could climb up and slide down again and again! Her delight made me dissolve in uncontrollable laughter. She enabled me to leave responsibility behind, if only for a moment.
Not that Spirit was perfect. She was what our vet called, “a runner.” Spirit, if left off her leash, or if a door was left ajar, would probably run to Tennessee if she could. Once, while driving home from work, I decided to stop by the vet’s office to pick up a prescription for Spirit’s heartworm pills. As I walked into the vet’s office lobby, I noticed a woman with a fairly large black dog talking to the receptionist. The dog noticed me and started wagging its tail furiously. “Pretty dog – looks like Spirit,” I thought. Then, I heard the woman say, “I saw this dog running along the parkway so I stopped. She jumped right into my car so I brought her here since you are the closest vet.”
I looked at the dog again. “Oh my God, that IS Spirit!” I cried out loud. I must have looked pretty suspicious to the woman and the receptionist. They just looked at me. “I’m serious. Check her tags. Her name is Spirit and I’m Cindy Roman, her owner.” Well, to this day, I find the entire incident to be pretty cosmic. I mean, seriously?
As Spirit got older, her antics became more homebound. One of her favorite activities was to bounce helium balloons on her nose. She’d go from room to room, bouncing and following that balloon wherever it went. I would find a spot to sit on the floor and wait for her to tire from the balloon game. When she was done playing, she’d back herself up to my lap, plop down and look like a queen on her throne. I hugged her from behind and waited for her energy to return. It always did – until it didn’t.
One day, when Spirit was about eleven years old, she found a strange spot to sit. She went into my husband’s computer room in the basement; sat in the corner and stared at the wall. The next day, she went outside and sat behind a bush all day, even during the rain. On the third day, she laid down on the basement floor, looked at me with an unfamiliar distance in her eyes, and she died. On that day, I forgot everything that life with Spirit was. I was furious and frantic. I was depressed and forlorn. Why did Spirit have to leave? How could I live without Spirit? Yes, I grieved – long and hard.
Now, after many years and many dogs later, I know that Sprit never left me. Grief is real and I miss this special dog who taught me so well. But Spirit lives on in me and will go on after I am gone. Spirit is alive in my connection with myself, others, and the world around me. I can find joy in a balloon and then a moment later, I can connect with the meaning in an icy, flowing stream. I can laugh at the nature of a universe that makes us all interconnected and yet changes us every second. I can feel compassion for others’ sorrows and know that they can find happiness again in the next moment. Spirit is letting go of anything that keeps me clinging to the past or striving for a future that changes by the moment. I am grateful for this gift of my life with Spirit.