Something is missing from my writing today. The barrage of daily news still motivates me to open up my laptop. The flames in the fireplace still match the heat of my anger at the headlines in the newspaper. The snow outside my window still reminds me that it’s a good day to stay indoors and write. The cup on the coffee table still fuels me with the caffeine that sharpens my thoughts.
But when I reach for the cup, the difference is clear. No more will I feel the nudge of a cool nose against my fingers insisting I remember to live in the present and not just in the future promise of words at my fingertips.
Our dog Beckley and I had a writing ritual. I’d pick up my laptop and coffee cup and walk from the kitchen to the living room. The moment I moved, he knew where we were going, more attuned to my habits than I was to his. When I placed the coffee cup on the table, he stood patiently, waiting for me to sit, and as soon as I settled, feet stretched out toward the fireplace, he found his place on the rug at my side.
Though he had completed obedience training as the star pupil, he had subtly trained me, too. I knew I couldn’t start writing until I’d scratched his ears and petted that soft sheltie fur on his head and back. Never was he the one to end this ritual. Even now I’m not sure how long I would have had to pet him if he’d been the one to say, “That’s all for right now.”
Reluctantly, he’d lie down, sometimes with a bit of a sigh. But each time I stopped touching the keys and reached for coffee, he raised his head hopefully and nudged my forearm. Most of the time he was adept at getting my attention before my fingers closed around the handle of the cup, but on more than one occasion he caused the coffee to slosh over the lip of the cup, eliciting an annoyed rebuke, “Beckley!”
He would look up at me with a sometimes contrite, sometimes insistent face, depending on my tone. He somehow read my mood and knew whether I’d ignore him and go on typing or put the cup down and pet him again.
When I ignored him, he’d get up, stretch, and then move farther away, underneath the coffee table that my husband and I called “Beckley’s cave.” He had one in each room—under a chair at the dining room table, under the end table in the sunroom, under the edge of the bed in our bedroom, in the master closet when we were in the shower.
And so today I can’t write rationally about how Congress should compromise. I can’t write angrily about how our leaders have failed to protect our children by passing gun laws. I can’t write righteously about how Christians can rationalize supporting a president so completely lacking in judgment and morality.
A few weeks before Christmas we discovered that Beckley had a cancerous tumor in his mouth. Blessed to have the financial means and the access to a specialist that he needed, we had the tumor removed, well aware that we did for our dog what some parents struggle to afford for their children who have cancer.
Even in sickness, Beckley was a stoic and happy companion. For nearly three months he still enjoyed eating—perhaps even more because , once we knew we didn’t have much time left with him, we gave him human foods that we’d rarely shared with him before. He still enjoyed going for walks as I tried to log steps on my fitness tracker. He still enjoyed the peanut butter treats he got each time he managed not to bark back at a dog that barked at him or at a child on a bicycle or a skateboard.
He still enjoyed our writing ritual, especially once I understood that scratching his ears was, for now, more important than anything I had to say about current events.
Two weeks ago we let him go, weeping at our helplessness to make him stay. I will miss so many things about him, but nothing so much as that he was the one little being in our house who was oblivious to the chaos in the world around us.
He reminded me to enjoy good food, long walks, and peace in the midst of chaos. He reminded me to stop and savor the nuzzle of a cool nose and the feel of soft fur.
Beckley wasn’t perfect. He didn’t care for other dogs much, and left to his own devices, he would have barked at everything that moved. But he cared about pleasing us enough to restrain himself at the promise of a treat. It occurs to me now that perhaps he barked to train me to give him treats, and that makes me smile.
It’s time to stop writing now—to close the laptop, put on my sneakers, and go for a long walk. I’ve found in the past few days that while I still love breathing in the fresh air and hearing the sounds of spring, I don’t quite know what to do with my hands when I go for a walk without him.
But his spirit barks at me from across the rainbow bridge, and I know he’ll help me figure it out.