Friday, October 14, 2016

Hope is a Puppy

If Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul (as Ms. Dickinson claimed), I think Joy must be the thing that clings to Hope’s wings when it rises into flight.

I’ve been thinking lots about hope and joy – and sadness, too – as we prepare to bring a new dog into our home. It’s been two months since we lost Lily, our beloved dog for more than a dozen years, and I still find myself looking for her in the regular places several times a day, anticipating her greeting when I return home from someplace else, then feeling my heart sink when I realize – again – that she’s not here.

For weeks after Lily died, my son would ask daily when we could get another dog. Nearly as soon as the question was out of his mouth, he’d say tearfully, “I miss Lily.” That conflict of simultaneously missing Lily and longing for a new pup is something we’ve all felt: when (after countless hours of searching and contemplating and – yes – crying) I told the kids we were going to get a puppy, my older daughter’s eyes brimmed with happy, relieved tears; and a few hours later, my littlest one began sobbing at the dinner table, too distraught over Lily’s persistent absence to eat.

Nothing feels quite right without a dog in the house. And while Lily was a one-of-a-kind girl, a dog we know we’ll never replace, the idea of a puppy has been comforting to all of us. It has allowed us to transition beyond our sadness, moved us from looking back to looking forward.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my solo walks in the woods – a place I’d wandered for years with Lily’s companionship – were excruciatingly lonely. Now, I think of Lil in all her favorite places and remember how she loved these walks. But I think, too, of days in the not-too-distant future when there will again be a dog wandering with me, an easy and content companion.

I felt a somewhat desperate mingling of happy and sad when I first contemplated bringing a puppy into our home, a feeling bordering on guilt. Guilt because getting another dog seemed like an attempt at replacing the irreplaceable. And guilt because this hope – for love and loyalty and lifelong companionship – seems a lot to place on a tiny puppy, who will be following in the paw prints of a pretty amazing dog.

For my husband and me, Lily was the first dog we had as adults, the first important responsibility we assumed together. For my children, Lily was the only dog they’ve known as part of our family. Lily knew them – and loved them – all of their young lives. But they didn’t know Lily all of hers, only arriving when Lil was already grown. This puppy, this little bundle of fur and hope, they’ll know for her whole life, from puppyhood to those calm (we hope) middle years to old age.

This will be the dog they grow up with, the one they’ll remember best. They’ll mature together and play together and, I hope, become steadfast pals.

There is work, of course, that comes with raising a puppy: house training and no-chewing-the-furniture training and lessons about not jumping and no biting. For years (I hope) there will be endless fur to vacuum and smelly things rolled in and other puppy shenanigans.  

It’s all a small price to pay for the love of a good dog.

“Next year we can bring our puppy on this hike, right, Mama?” one of the kids asked me the other day during a short uphill jaunt – the hike that was the children’s first, and Lily’s too. Yes, next year we can bring the puppy with us – on hikes and car rides and contemplative walks through the woods. Next month she’ll be here. Soon, there will be a wagging tail to welcome us home again.

We haven’t yet decided on a name for our puppy, and I won’t be surprised if we five humans are still debating the right moniker right up to the day we bring her home. Maybe we’ll call her Hope. Only this Hope will be a thing with fur that romps happily about, ready to share our home and family adventures. Puppies don’t sing, but they smile and they yip and they wag their tails; they are just as persistent in their joy as Emily Dickinson’s thing with feathers.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the October 14, 2016 edition of the Littleton Record.

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