Throughout our lives we are constantly saying hellos and goodbyes. Good mornings and good nights. We sail away to college and leave our caregivers behind. We face loss on a daily basis: the $5 bill you could have sworn you used as a book mark, or a loving grandparent you wish you would have gotten to know better. But on the flip side, we also greet the people we somehow know will be in our lives forever. We pet puppies who will be just as perfect and adorable when they grow into their full size. Good Night Moon is read to children from day one. The sacred "good morning text" is known and beloved by all single ladies on Twitter and Tumblr as a trend that will never go out of style. (A Taylor Swift reference this early on? Just shake it off.)
Life is an unbroken cycle of rebirth and release. I know this out of common sense and perhaps a few yoga routines, but I also know because I have had to kiss goodbye to, not only, someone I knew I would outlive, but someone I would rather take my place any day. My black labrador retriever, Satchmo. He was named after the jazz musician, Louis Armstrong, and carried on his spunk and charisma for 13 hearty years. There was not an ice cream spoon unlicked, a mailman un-barked-upon, or a spot in the backyard left un-pooped-in for the duration of his life. He was beside me from the time I was four years old to my now 17-year-old almost-adult self.
During the early stages of his time with my family, I would always whine to my mom and say "I want a puppy that's calm," whenever I felt a nip or a scratch from his teething puppy mouth. I didn't understand why he was afraid of the vacuum cleaner or why he always wanted his butt to be scratched. But then we fell into a routine. The sound of his claws on the tiled kitchen floor was simultaneously a perky tap dance routine and a soothing acoustic soundtrack that became monochrome with my every move. When he was panicking about thunderstorms, I was the one to comfort him. He would hide behind my shower curtain and become the monster everyone wants under their bed. He never ran out of nerve.
There's an Emily Bronte quote that goes "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." That really makes me think of Satchmo. We were both always at lightning speed: getting stoked for dinner or stroked the wrong way by a simple noise from upstairs. He always sensed when there was a problem, and not because of obvious things. He would follow me on days my brain felt weird and my body sick, he would lick my tears despite the sodium content, and he would wait by my side until he felt a calm radiance once again. People always call themselves dog whisperers, but I think he was a people whisperer. He understood what I couldn't and somehow took on the role of parent, sibling, wild animal, and best friend; all under one roof and within one beating heart.
The loss of a pet is a strange feeling, united by an overall desire for peace and a heavy armor of grief. Tissues become blocks of concrete we need, but the good memories fill in over all the blemishes of pain and suffering. It's a rhythm of good news and bad, feeling overwhelmingly grateful and extremely, intensely bereaved.
It's hard to come home knowing a wagging tail won't greet you at the door, but you also have a sense that there's a bit of a wagging tail within yourself, in his memory at the same time. His selfless, ardent spirit is captured in the hands of every human who pet him, and I am beyond lucky to be a part of his fan base. He taught me the essence of freedom from the very moment he came into my life. He taught me how to feel sovereign while even controlled at the end of a leash, how to let my ears flap in the wind, and how to live like every car trip to the vet was a swim in the lake. And with those guidances in mind, how could I not think to myself "What a wonderful world?"
And what a wonderful dog.