Our sweet Manny boy

[I wrote this last week but couldn’t bring myself to publish it. Two days ago, Manny crossed the rainbow bridge in my arms. Rest in peace, Manny. You were loved and are so missed already.]

I write this for Manny, the rescue pup who has been part of our lives for thirteen years. He has cancer. I’ve been given the signs to watch for when we need to put him down. The signs are there. I have made the call to the vet. It looks like next week is THE UNTHINKABLE/THINKABLE WEEK. Great, I’ve got a week to bawl as I think “This is the last walk…the last time he trails me around the garden…the last time he snugs himself into the crook of my knees at night or serves as my feet warmer…the last time I trip over him in the kitchen…the last time….” I have been crying all damn day, on and off, and I still have about six of these ahead of me and then the ones after.

This was a dog I wasn’t going to have. You see, I was going to protect my heart from the pain of pet loss because there were so many pet losses growing up that flattened me. We put so many dogs down over the years and it devastated me each time so I wasn’t going to go this route. I had a choice now. No more dogs. No more.

Until Kelsey launched a crusade in 7th grade to rescue a dog. She brought her little brothers on board and they planned a powerpoint presentation for the hubs and I, presenting it to us to persuade us that we would be truly awful and uncaring parents–irresponsible even–if we didn’t let them have a dog. This turned out to be her most successful and persuasive presentation of her one home-schooled year. She went back to regular school the next year….

So, Manny came to live with us. He’d clearly been abused and it has been a joy to see him learn to love and trust over the years.

This last year, life took another round of turns and we ended up with dog #2–the other dog we were never going to have. One dog? Okay. Two dogs? NEVER. In August, Sage, the Australian Shepherd blue merle puppy, came to join Manny and us. I will not go into the reasons we did this other than to say we once again did it for a kid. Go figure. We were nervous about this because Manny is territorial. He has not historically taken kindly to other dogs on his property. We talked to a trainer (shout out to Jeff at http://www.soundanimals.com) beforehand and got his tips of how to introduce new puppy to old dog. Basically, he said old dog got to call the shots and that Manny likely would be disdainful of this intruder and interloper into his life. We had to let him be the grouchy old man.

And he was. Sweet little Sage tried so hard to get him to like her–to get him to play, to get him to interact with her in something other than growls or snips. He trained her to give way to him. If a toy was thrown in the direction where Manny was, she learned to stop short and not go too close. She learned to relinquish the bone treats he stole from her. She is something, that sweet little Sage.

But even though she has been wary, she has never given up. I would say to Manny, the-grouchy-old-man-dog, “Manny, it would be so much easier if you played with her. Let yourself play.”

It was August when Sage came home. It is now December and guess what? Manny’s been learning to play again. Sage was smaller than Manny when she came; now she is much bigger, and he walks underneath her belly when they are close to each other, sniffing, pre-play. She puts her paw on his head or his shoulders, saying, “Please play” and sometimes they romp a bit around the kitchen and family room, with Manny’s tail wagging. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen this last year–our old dog learning to play again–to open himself up and let himself enjoy. I’m pretty sure it’s given him some extra time.

I tell people I meet with for spiritual direction to look at their own lives for the clues, invitations, and lessons that are there for them.

Yep. What I dish out, I gotta take. This has been a year of lessons/invitations (I am trying to call them that but they’ve often felt more like smackdowns, to be honest). But this learning to play again thing–it’s a big one in midlife. Somewhere along the line, most of us lose much of the ability to play (unless we have some help on board–drinks anyone?). Trauma, wounds, disappointments, worries, responsibilities–all of these things contribute to the loss of our ability to truly play and enter into the moments where play would be possible. You see, play requires spontaneity and presence. It’s hard to be truly spontaneous when you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s hard to be truly present and engaged in the now moment when you are distracted by any number of things. And if there has been trauma, disappointment or deep wounding that hasn’t been fully lanced and healed? Forget it, for genuine, absorbed play is nigh on impossible.

But Manny–he’s DOING it. Sage’s sweetness and winsomeness and, dare I say R-E-S-PECT but “I’m not giving up on you” is having its effect. He has been wooed. He has been desired. He has been given opportunity and space to enter in. And he is–HE IS.

This fills me with longing. See, in midlife, I am trying to learn to play again. For some of you, this sounds ridiculous. You don’t understand what I am saying here. But for others of you–you feel the longing, too. You get what I am reaching for. You want this as well. It’s all so serious, so hard, so heavy. Okay, so maybe. BUT…

What if we let ourselves play?  What if we allowed ourselves to have fun? What if we didn’t let the killjoy people and aspects of life KILL OUR JOY?

I am watching Manny and Sage. It is beautiful and precious. Time is running out. But guess what? I am going to get to picture Manny prancing across the rainbow bridge next week. That’s how I’m going to remember him. Because he’s prancing again now, like he did when he was a little puppy and really excited.

I am grateful. I am really, really sad. And I am going to let this gut-wrenching dog-loss pain teach me to play, again. Just you wait. You might even see me prance. You for sure will see me wearing some of the truly outrageously delightful clothes hanging in the back of my closet thrifted from stores. Fake pink fur anyone? Yes, please. I’m going to sniff out fun.

And if you want to have a playdate? (I like this term much better than what I believe is now the current term “hangout”).  Please call me. I’m down if there is any way I can make it work. I want to play, and play hard. I don’t know how much time I have left. I hope it is more than a week. But if not, I want to go out having remembered what it is to prance and play.


Manny and Sage hanging out together on the family room couch
Waiting for me to sit down and read with him in the nook
Co-pilot Manny enroute to Montana
Almost besties?