“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
It’s five years ago and I’m taking a walk with my dog on a cold autumn night. My mind is somewhere else, probably dwelling on some event that happened at school that day. I’m zoned out and barely notice what’s going on around me. Suddenly, Jessie stops. She sniffs the air, picking up on something that I can’t. At first, I try to get her to keep going. I just want to walk, I feel impatient. Jessie doesn’t budge. Fine, I think, I’ll wait here a minute, I guess. I untangle myself from my thoughts and try to figure out what she is sensing. We stand still for a few moments. A hawk flies overhead. The wind blows softly through the pines. I feel a wave of calm rush over me. For a brief moment, I could step out of the confinement of my own head, tear down my blinders, and enter Jessie’s world. I wish I could stay.
Her excitement about going out for a walk was unmatched. Every time I took her leash and collar off its hook, she would start running around the house, instigating a game of I’m going to make you crawl under the table after me and then I’m going to run away. The laughter in her eyes could not be clouded by old age. When we finally got outside, she would immediately direct me to all her favorite smelling spots around the yard, trying to eat as many things as possible along the way. She reveled in the woods, which had an almost endless supply of dead and decomposing things at her disposal. Despite the putrid odor she exuded after rolling in her finds, I rarely stopped her. She was so happy.
She lived for food. I had to keep a stash of carrots in my pockets on all walks just in case she decided she wouldn’t walk any further until I gave her one. Yes, carrots. In her frequent fridge raids, she would go for the bag of carrots over the piece of meat any day. She always ran to another room with her stolen goods, hoping beyond hope that this would be the day the humans decided not to come after her and take her precious stash away.
She liked to lay her head next to mine while she slept on my bed. Sometimes, she covered my whole face with hers, not wanting any distance between us. Despite a little difficulty breathing, those were some of the most restful nights I’ve had.
There was profound beauty in her simple life. She wanted for nothing, except the company of those she loved. Her saddest days were when our family left for vacation—her happiest, when we came home. She knew what mattered. In this way, she was wiser than any person I had ever met.
She died on a Friday. She was 13. I was 18. I had known her for over 12 years.
And on every day of every one of those years, she was excited by the prospect of being alive.
What an incredible existence.