My dog, Freire, is sick. He doesn’t act it, yet, but he’s got a nasty cancer that will get him, sooner than not. Tomorrow he’s having surgery, for the second time in four months, to remove a small but definitely malignant lump. He’s a young dog, and you wouldn’t know he has cancer. It seems to be taking place in a parallel but very real universe.
No more surgeries after this, but we wanted to give him more days like today – Fall clear and sunny – more mornings at the park – more pull and dash and sniff and plunge. More of what I hope is simple unselfconscious dog glee.
There are two basic truths to having animals. The first is that they are a lot of work and the second is that they will break your heart because even if they live a long life, they are likely to die before you do. I’ve had plenty of thinking about that second truth lately – plenty of encounters with the deep sadness of lost animal companions on Facebook and listserves and in my own life. So I want to talk about the work part.
This morning, early, Freire and I were trudging up the street beneath still high half-moon and the Milky Way. I was brooding about tomorrow and all of the troubling contingencies of the vet and the meds and recovery. Freire was pulling. He is a big strong dog and he always pulls. This is hard, I thought, something I often think while walking him. This is hard. I was also remembering my conversation with my shrink yesterday, who matter-of-factly noted that there may be no particular messages to be discerned from this year of my life, the year in which my mother died and my dog got sick and a good friend is ill, and there’s even less money than usual. Her position was straightforward – that these incidents are just the business of life. Fair enough.
But out with Freire this morning—lunging, strolling, stopping and starting — I thought about something I’d never considered before.
What if I paid as much attention to my writing as I paid to the animals in my life?
I’m not talking about trading one for the other. I’m talking about acknowledging my writing as a living thing that needs tending and care and patience and time. I know, I know – this is hardly a new metaphor, but standing there at the end of a half-finished alley, by a patch of weeds and asphalt I pass most every day, writing seemed suddenly alive and creaturely, something with a life of its own – separate from, though dependent upon me for its well-being.