Decades ago a dear friend, Bill, drove up my driveway with a very young boy. His brand new wife, a very unstable woman, had just committed suicide. The boy was her son.
Bill left the child with my wife and me for the day. We had a good time, if I remember. He played on the deck in a huge stainless bowl full of water. Late in the day, Bill came back and picked up the boy.
I don’t know when I realized Bill was trying to place his lost son with a family who could care for him. My wife and I weren’t ready. It was some time later we adopted our daughters from India, and they taught me some much needed lessons about unconditional love.
Years later I was meeting with my lawyer, Max, who was also a friend of Bill. We were laughing and doing legal business when Max told me Bill had visited him the same week he’d visited me. Max and his wife, Teresa, did not hesitate. They accepted the boy into their hearts and their family. The next couple of decades were not easy. But their commitment never waned.
Some years passed. I was again in need of Max’ legal fangs, and went to his office. On the floor, on a huge pillow, was the skinniest dog I’d ever seen. She barely struggled to her feet when I came in the room. Max mentioned that she was a bit of work, getting her out to go to the bathroom, lifting her in and out of the car. She didn’t have many days or weeks left, he said.
“Why don’t you put her down?” I asked.
“She isn’t ready,” quickly came Max’s reply.
You have to realize how much this startled me, coming from one of the toughest people I knew, an Irishman from Chicago who could make his blue coffee cup turn red with his every-day language.
“She isn’t ready.”
From there we argued about the Catholic Church, abortion, the I.R.A., the death penalty, homosexual priests, etc. He was a damn good lawyer and had no problem defending what seemed to me contradictory superstitions. But he walked his talk, and taught me something by his actions, if not his words.
Not that I wasn’t receptive. I have been laughed at by more than one person for putting spiders outside, even houseflies. For using live traps for my kitchen mice, and driving them a half mile away so they wouldn’t beat me back to the house. That was all part of a deal I made with my higher power when a couple of pets suffered during a time I thought it was okay to kill porcupines. Long story.
Last week, I was helping a friend, Stacy, wrap up local business before she left the country to join her fiance and start a new life. One of the items on the agenda was finding a vet who would euthanize her two old dogs. Molly, who is quite old, has cancer and not long to live; the smaller one has cataracts. The clock was ticking.
I took over that difficult process. With the help of friends on Facebook, I found a kind local vet who would come and transition the animals. Everything was set to happen on Saturday. I was ready to foot the bill.
Before you judge Stacy, you need to know she is one of the most compassionate human beings you could ever hope meet. She assists people in grinding poverty, and in the last days of their lives. But Stacy had to go, and there was no one, even her ex who shared the dogs’ history, who could take them. And the dogs lived for her voice. This was mercy, not callousness.
On Tuesday I joined another of her friends who had a van to move Stacy’s furniture. I met the two dogs. Rubbed ears. Got sniffed. When I got home, I paced my living room for more than an hour. One thought kept pushing me around.
“They aren’t ready.”
All night and the next day I chewed on the fact that I was facilitating death, and they weren’t ready. But I could not take two dogs, especially a small yapper, and had no place for either while I escorted Stacy to her new love and life in Costa Rica.
Yes, I will mention the rainbow I saw to the north when I came to my decision. And pretend it’s irrelevant.
Right after which, Stacy left me a text: the small dog had a home! Some friends had come through, but could just take the little dog. I waited. I was willing to wait a day or two, too, while things resolved without my effort, but I was smiling a rainbow of my own.
Stacy called an hour and a half after texting.
“My heart is a little less heavy,” she said, as she asked for the telephone number to tell the vet there would just be one animal to euthanize.
“I’m going to lighten it the rest of the way,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“Molly can stay here with me. I talked to the house-sitter earlier about taking on an old dog while I’m gone, and he said ‘sure.’ When I get back, Molly will be here with me until she’s ready to die. If it doesn’t work out for you in Costa Rica, you come back for her. If it does, I’ll have a life-long friend, even if that life isn’t too long.”
All I could hear were sobs on the other end of the line, because I was crying myself. I don’t really know why, except I knew it was my job to be the boatman to take Molly from this shore to the next.
Sometimes things work out just how how they’re supposed to, and that feeling is overwhelming. My tears were in gratitude for being where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there, that I would be there when Molly was ready, and not send her on her way before she was.
I’m also looking forward to taking her to the beach, which I’m told is one of her favorite places. Mine too.
*Names have been changed.