It’s about 5 AM. Haven’t slept much, neither has my husband Jim. It’s the morning of his mother’s funeral service and there’s a brutal snow storm going on outside. We don’t know if one son and daughter-in-law will make it from California, last we heard they were stranded in the Dallas airport. Jim forgot his suit and pants and has only jeans and a sweatshirt. We are three hours away from home. I am worried about the dogs, cats and sheep, and my cell phone won’t work.
I make some tea in the motel’s sad little water heater, and turn on my iPad. As I often do, I click on the New York Times. I skim articles about politics–none seem relevant, as I’m in that strange, underwater state one is in when grieving and yet helping to organize the detritus of a death. I scroll down, and find an article titled: “The Blessing of a Rescue Dog,” by Margaret Renkl, a NYT Contributing Opinion Writer. I googled her name, and found a face that you just know has to be one of a dog lover.
The essay is exquisitely written, and immediately I am hooked. I am no longer in an uncomfortable bed in a snow storm a few hours before my mother-in-law’s funeral. I am with Margaret’s Millie, described as “a cross between Groucho Marx and a dust mop. . .”.
Ms. Renkl continues: “She doesn’t bark; she has never barked even once, but she yelps at the slightest unexpected touch. It’s more than a yelp, really. Something between a howl and a piercing scream. Soon I am feeling traumatized myself. My dog screams, and my heart starts to pound: What on earth did I do this time?”
I keep reading, and then she says:
“For help, I turn to “The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog,” Patricia McConnell’s superb account of healing, both canine and human. It comforts me to learn that it took Dr. McConnell, a celebrated animal behaviorist, months and months of concerted training to desensitize her own traumatized dog to his fears. Following her advice, I am learning to recognize Millie’s triggers and intervene before they can escalate into panic.”
She goes on to conclude, in the midst of her own angst and sorrow about her own personal losses and the tragedy of much of the world around us: “There will always be ways to help alleviate suffering. This, she reminds me, is no time for despair. This little rescue dog is rescuing me, too.”
And thus, she rescued me too, on a dark morning in a bitter snowstorm on a sad day, with a reminder of how much beauty there is in the world, how good it feels to be acknowledged, and the power of beautiful writing.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: The relatives made it to the service, Jim bought clothes at the nearby Target, and the service for his mom was everything it should be. The snow stopped before we drove home, and I managed a chilly but lovely snow shoe with the BCs as the sun went down and the snow turned blue.
The sheep wanted to know where we’d been:
Assuming the planes are still flying, I hope to see some of you in Rochester, MI on Friday morning at Oakland University. Come up and say hi, I would love to see you.