As far as losses go, this one is probably small. But it sure doesn't feel small today. For months, we have known that "some day soon" we would be saying good-bye to our beloved Shadow. And that day happened to be . . . today.
Poet extraordinaire (and passionate dog-lover) Mary Oliver says much of what I'm feeling now:
Because of the dog's joyfulness, our own is increased.
It is no small gift.
It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love
the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street,
and all the dogs not yet born.
What would the world be like without music
or rivers or the green and tender grass?
What would the world be like without dogs?
I'm not sure what the world would be like without dogs. But I am about to find out what my world will be like without this dog.
At the beginning, Shadow was to be Eric's dog. And he was for a time. When Eric wasn't home quite as much, Shadow became Julie's dog. At that time, she was home most of the time. Even later, when Julie began working full-time, Shadow became my dog. For years now, I've been able to work at home quite a bit, so Shadow and I became great friends.
He earned the name that he was given, and was usually close enough to be my literal shadow. We walked miles together, exploring our little corner of the world. He was the model of courage when suspicious delivery trucks came down the driveway, and a doorbell would send Shadow into a frenzy.
It was because of Shadow that we got to know quite a few representatives of the animal kingdom. He had a special affection for skunks, and he was completely fascinated by porcupines (which did not often lead to a good outcome). He knew exactly where the property line was and he was diligent in making certain that the deer stayed on their side of the fence. He refused to cower before raccoons or coyotes. In fact, the only time I saw Shadow afraid was when he was being chased by our rather ill-tempered rooster.
Often, Shadow would sit at my feet while I worked. Oddly, he grew especially calm when I rehearsed my sermons, and he seemed to give special attention when I was reading Scripture out loud. He was likely the most biblically literate dog in northern Michigan.
If you have ever listened to our recorded Bible studies on our church website, you have heard Shadow in the background either snoring, barking, or whining. He was a valued member of our small group.
Until this week, he was at the door every single time we arrived home. We knew exactly what he was thinking: "Where have you guys been?" But over the past few weeks things began to change dramatically. And we knew that something was terribly wrong when he stopped meeting us at the door. After some pretty tough health struggles over the past few years, Shadow let us know this week that he was ready to bring things to a close.
I know. He was "just a dog."
But he was also a great friend, a loyal companion, and a precious gift from God.
Today we said good-bye to our Shadow. If you have ever done something like that, you know exactly how we feel.