He was my dog

HectorHe was nothing but a skittery pompom with a sharp little nose when we first brought him home.  He was small enough to fit into the pocket of my fleece.  His life spanned the length of our marriage.

Smart and fully engaged, he was excellent and constant company.  Dethroned successively by three babies, he generally took his demotion in good part.

Nosier than the Microsoft Paperclip, he always had to be involved, or at least present.  A naughty, loud fellow, scourge of the neighbours.   He was badly disciplined, an unrepentant pizza thief, a problem barker.

As he aged, he became blind and sick, and the sickness spread, despite our energetic denial.  What made it hardest to bear is that we could see in his eyes that he was still in there.  Barely able to walk he would still leap joyfully in the air when we came home.

When we broke the news of his condition, the children said ‘I wish I had been nicer to him’ and ‘it’s worse because he doesn’t know’

Towards the end, we ran a shift where one of us had to get up twice or three times per night and let him out.  We could never sleep past 5.30am.  It felt like having a newborn but without the upside.  It was unsustainable.  We walked like the undead, dealing with our kids and our jobs, but unable to bring ourselves to the point of what we had to do.

We heard many stories from others, some who had been to amazing extremes to keep their old dogs alive.  They all told the same story: ‘We kept him alive too long because we couldn’t bear to let him go’.  They were stories of bargaining, rationalising and denial.

In the end it was quite simple.  We carried him into the vet.  The vet spoke to us quietly and reassuringly, like a kindly priest.  The tears ran unguarded down our faces from the moment we arrived until we left.   When he was gone, he was gone.  I wish I had not looked into his eyes as they changed.  The right thing to do did not feel like the right thing to do.

Now, we can leave our food on the table without losing it.  We can walk around the back lawn without the danger of stepping on landmines.  We can sleep.

But weeks later I still hear his claws making fickety fickety noises behind me when I walk down the hall.  I throw food on the floor and it stays there. When I rise from reading, there is no attentive dismount beside me.  Coming home lacks a leaping celebration.

He was my dog, and I miss him every day.

Rub your eyes and purify your heart

Purified heartWhile being deported to the Gulags, Nobel Literature prize winning author Solzenitzyn observed a mother and daughter engaged in a petty squabble on his bus.  In response, he wrote the following:

“Do not pursue what is illusory – property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated on one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life – don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter does not last forever and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes see, and if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart – and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well.”

As we go through some significant changes in our work and family life, this quotation resonates strongly with us.  Even now as I read it the hairs rise on the back of my neck in recognition of the the essential truth.  We are blessed to have people in our lives who care about us and who wish us well. We are healthy and strong enough to live with integrity, love, honesty and kindness.

What else could possibly matter?



Grapefruit: 100 Days Project #5

GrapefruitDid your nana have a grapefruit tree smack in the middle of her neatly manicured lawn?  Seems like at one time just about everybody did.   More often than not these leggy, bountiful trees would cast their golden harvest unappreciated on to the lawn.  If they lay there, the fruit would soften and rot, eventually to pass under the lawnmover and fling their sharp scent into the air like a citrus IED.

There were no juicers then, well not in our world.  The squeezers we had were made for lemons and much too small.  Besides those old grapefruit were just so lip puckeringly sour!   Nobody would buy them if you tried to sell them at the side of the road.  Mostly they ended up as part of the neighbourhood arsenal, lobbed over fences, at sisters and passing bike wheels.

My Dad would slice one in half and sprinkle a little sugar on top.  He would leave it overnight on the top of the fridge in our cold, old Christchurch bungalow kitchen.  In the morning, the sugar would have formed a small but highly sought after crust.  He would cut around inside the pithy circumference for us with a small serrated knife he had customized for the purpose, and separate the juicy segments.  It was a highly satisfying act of frugality and self sufficiency.

When we took over our house and old garden from my Nana-in-law’s estate there was a grapefruit tree in the back yard.  Leggy and borer-ridden, it bit the dust some ten years ago, and we didn’t miss the small, hard green tinged fruit.  Then last year my generous friend Tracey gave me a bag of her excess grapefruit.  They were golden, juicy and very sweet and I was filled with jealous nostalgia.


You can see the rest of the 100 Days Project here