I have a very old Rhodesian Ridgeback for a companion. She is 12-years-old and can still break out on an impressive run when we walk. But when she sleeps, she shudders and her breathing is raggedy. Ridgebacks are smart- some books suggest that they are as smart as a four-year-old child. I know that Coco knows things and that her anxious looks as I walk out the door without her are real. I have always taken my dogs with me to work. They have been the mascots at my office and in some quiet ways have built the bridges between people.
I have been thinking of getting a puppy lately. In fact, I had another beautiful Ridgeback girl waiting for me. At the eleventh hour while reading a book about the art of raising a puppy, it occurred to me that between the move of the office and the start of winter basketball season, I could not find a single week to devote solely to the puppy’s transition. Right then, Coco was not doing so well either and I had to look at my inability to let go.
Letting go is the lesson of this time in life for me. At the tail end of my parenting years, my kids barely notice my absence now. My dogs miss me still and are exuberant when I return. When I think of Coco leaving me, at this time, the emptiness doesn’t feel like freedom. It feels like a huge hole. It feels like a dark space that I don’t quite know how to inhabit, and feels like it can consume me.
Throughout most of December, I wrestled with this hunger for a new baby to care for, a new life to integrate into the last days of my kids still at home. But then I realized that caring for and training the new puppy would take me further out of their lives, rather than connecting us the way it did years ago. I have to let go. I have to be willing to hold the empty space. I have to know loss, as do we all.
What is positive about this letting go process is how when you pay attention to it, your capacity for gratitude expands effortlessly. As I write this, in my new morning practice of beginning the day by telling stories, I am surrounded by the soft hum of Coco’s raggedy deep breathing and I am not taking her presence for granted. I am memorizing how it feels when she is there. I am looking at how her chest rises and falls, at how she wraps her legs tightly under her, at how her head lays on the blanket and trying to etch it into my memory.
Life goes on, we become more human by paying attention to what we love. Letting go teaches us how to appreciate more deeply who and what we have to love.