THE BLOG
12/23/2013 05:13 pm ET | Updated Feb 22, 2014

Waiting With Ellie

In this season of Advent, I have been thinking a lot about waiting.

I am not a huge fan.

In fact, I hate to wait. I am impulsive and impatient. I make hasty decisions, especially when I am tired or my brain is too full.

I can be ungenerous with those who do not seem to be keeping a proper pace, a quality for which my husband Phil is certain I will burn in Hell. I told him to go grocery shopping at the same exact time as every senior citizen in town, and then we can talk about Hell.

I hate to be late, yet I always am -- maybe because I fight time rather than move with it.

My impatience -- along with my big ears and fear of clowns -- has been passed down to my oldest daughter Emma. She came into the world exactly on her due date, waiting to be born. Ready to get on with it. Ready to crawl, to walk, to talk, to run.

Ready to go to school: "No kisses at the door, Mom."

Ready to walk to the bus stop alone: "Stop lurking in the driveway, Mom."

She wants to know when: When can I get my ears pierced? When can I ride my bike alone? When are we leaving? When will we get there? She is fully dressed -- hat, boots and backpack -- by 7:43. The bus comes at 8:35.

Phil and my younger daughter Phoebe don't mind waiting. In fact, if they wait long enough, they might forget what they are waiting for and move on to something else. Emma and I call it PST: Phil & Phoebe Standard Time. I spend a lot of time waiting at the door with Phil's keys, his phone, his wallet. While Phoebe half-heartedly hunts for her mittens or lost sneaker, Emma waits in the car. She hides books between the seats.

But out of all of us, our dog Ellie waits the most. She waits to be fed, to be walked, to have her belly rubbed. She waits by the door when she hears Phil's car in the driveway; she waits under the dinner table for Phoebe's first fish stick to drop. She lets everyone else go first while she patiently waits.
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And now, she is waiting to die.

In a theology class, I remember learning about the two types of time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is clock time, the time we live in. It is chronological, measurable, predictable. It makes sense. Bus comes at 8:35. Karate is on Tuesdays. Sun rises at 7:07.

The Greek word kairos means "God's time" or "the right moment." It is elusive and mysterious. You can't predict or control it -- you have to feel it. Nine years ago, Phil planned to propose to me on the beach at sunset. Instead, he dropped to one knee in my parents' garage as I reached into the fridge for a Coors Light. Why? "It just felt right." Oh, Phil. You just wanted that Coors Light.

Henri Nouwen writes, "Fearful people have a hard time waiting."

That sounds about right. I am terrified. I am afraid that Ellie is suffering. I am afraid she is going to fall down the steps or slip on the ice. But really... I am afraid of what's to come. Of how bad it's going to get. "Anywhere from a few weeks to a few months," is what the vet said. It is one month today. 30 days. Chronos.

But right now there are still moments when I can forget. I scratch her ears, she thumps her tail and I forget that her bones are being eaten away. I forget that her shoulders are disintegrating as we sit by the fire, with Phoebe deejaying on Pandora like any other day. Kairos.

But when will it become impossible to forget? We had to put baby gates by the stairs. Last week, she cried when she tried to scratch her ears. What's next? Will she stop walking? Pee in the house? Stop eating? When? Tomorrow, next week, next month? How will I know when it's time to let her go?

"You will just know," they say. "She will tell you when it's time."

Huh? What does that mean? How will she tell me? And I never "just know" anything, ever. My sister-in-law had to tell me to go to the hospital when I was in labor because I thought I just needed to poop.

My friend Priya, who has known me and my specific brand of crazy for 30+ years, broke it down for me: "If you are questioning it, you're not there yet."

Ok. That, I get.

I want a chronos answer to a kairos question. But we are not waiting for the bus, here. I am being called to a deeper waiting. Nouwen calls it "active waiting": "Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. Our waiting is always shaped by alertness to the world."

Waiting actively changes what I see, what I notice. When I wait fearfully, I hear Ellie's labored breathing and think, Should I call the vet tomorrow? When I wait actively, I notice how she lays her paw on my wrist, and I think, We are holding hands.

Chronos vs. Kairos. There is nothing the vet can tell me that I don't already know. All there is to do is wait. Do I wait in fear or do I wait in love?

John Grogan writes: "Such short lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day."

Ellie has spent most of her life waiting patiently. But this time, she is the one who will go first. And while she waits, we will wait with her. Lovingly, reverently, gratefully, until she tells us it is time. Kairos.

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