Archive for December, 2010

Harry and the art of living richly

December 10, 2010

I had one of the best neighbors anyone could ever ask for.  His name was Harry.

His passing was the sort of news I hadn’t any preparation for.  It came via phone.  I received a call from my girl and she knew how fond I was of him.

“Harry was put down yesterday.  Lee isn’t ready to talk about it.”

I stared into space.   I had seen him the previous afternoon.  “I went over to say hi to him and had five good minutes of puppy love before Lee came back out.”

“Yes,” she began, “You were one of the last people he knew to see him and give him love.”

I broke down over the phone as the awareness washed over me, an emotional building collapsing on the foundation of my soul.  It overcame me, a torrent of sadness and emotion.

“I have to go,” I whimpered past the lump in my throat as I hung up the phone.   I let my head collapse into my hands as I quietly sobbed.  I was at work and in an office surrounded by colleagues and didn’t want anyone to notice, although I was prepared to lie if asked.  I would have readily blamed the sniffling and tears on allergies.  Plausible in the Florida climate on almost any given day but not likely in the winter when the weather was clear with a temperature in the mid-forties.  I just didn’t want anyone to ask because explaining would have diminished the impact the little guy had on everyone he met and I didn’t want to put anyone in that awkward position of comforting a grown man with wet cheeks, because big boys aren’t supposed to cry.

A bit about Harry.  Harry was a handsome blonde fellow with the most brilliant golden-yellow eyes one had ever seen.  When we moved into the house across the street from him we quickly became friends with his human companions.  They loved and doted on him in a way that only people who understand what it means to have a canine companion almost from birth in one’s life.  He was already fifteen when we first formally met, and there shone such brilliance in those eyes.

I went across the street to bring Lee a big bronze eagle.  It was the sort of Americana piece one hung proudly over the mantle, or kitchen, or even in the garage, over one’s tool crib.  There was a community garage sale coming up and I decided I didn’t want to sell it; I wanted to give it to Lee.  Something told me he’d appreciate it.

That was when I saw Harry.  I knew I heard him barking, a subtle plaintive call for attention from anyone near enough to hear.  When I walked up to the garage the passenger door to Lee’s old Ford with over a quarter – million miles on its odometer was open.  I expected to see Lee hunkered down, working on something inside.

Instead there was Harry.  I placed the bronze art piece down and began scratching his head.  I leaned forward and talked to him, oblivious to anyone else.  And his eyes? They looked out from a frame that had long ago stopped working to support a soul that was still as energetic and vibrant as any puppy turned loose in a field.  But those eyes were lucid, understanding, comprehending eyes.  Harry could no longer run, but you knew, as he slept, in dreams he was out chasing squirrels and rabbits and running because that’s what retrievers do.  I continued to scratch his ears and jowls until Lee came out.

Lee could be one heck of a poker player, because he didn’t give one tell as to what he was up to or the hard decision he was to make.  I gave Lee the piece and said good bye to Harry, sure I’d see him sitting outside later.

Oh, they fussed over him, and he deserved it.  They loved him in a way that makes one realize the world is filled with good people doing good things who never get recognized nor desire the recognition.  What is more sacred than the preservation and protection of life?  In his golden years they saw to it he was cared for, because they did it with love themselves.  Mom would feed him chicken, and dad would pick him up and take him outside to lie in the grass, where he would paw at it, and bark, and drink water, or just relax.  Nothing brought a smile like watching that tail wag vigorously when Harry was moved to a prime piece of real estate in the front yard, high above the road, master of all he commanded.

The first time we’d been invited inside their house we noticed the layout was designed with Harry in mind. There was a mattress on the floor, for Harry. “Some people say I’m cruel,” Lee once said.  “But Harry’s fine.”

Lee didn’t need defending.  Where the dog’s body had begun to fail him, his mind still served him exceedingly well.  It was a quality-of-life issue.  And Harry’s life was all about quality.  He was a quality guy surrounded by quality people.  I agreed.  Harry was fine.  It reminded me of an expression I once heard.  “I hope I can only be the measure of the man my dog thinks I am.”  Lee satisfied that and more.  In a moment that carried the heft of immeasurable weight the words of Pablo Neruda rang with surprising clarity.

Harry would never have had a better, more fulfilling life anywhere else.  And I know he is running around right now, even as I work through the sadness of the passing for a dog that touched my life. I can only imagine how he enriched the lives of Lee and Cami, two people who loved and cared for him with the sort of selflessness not often evident these days.  I was lucky to have met him.  So was anyone else.

Have a good run, Harry.