1500+ miles on the road alone with Penny over the past few days gave me plenty of time to think about nothing. I don’t mean “not thinking,” I mean “thinking about Nothing.” Nothing is Zero. It’s broke. It’s empty. It’s everything I feared.
We painstakingly build our lives, fighting against the tide to construct something meaningful. Yet in the back of our minds we know one day it will all be washed away. Our efforts are rarely engulfed by a tidal wave. They are usually victim to an encroaching surf, relentlessly lapping at the walls of our sand castles.
A high-tide ripped my puppy from my arms and left me with nothing. Zero is the number of days I get to spend with Eko. Zero is the empty space on the couch where he should be. Zero is the phantom limb pain I feel each time I walk outside without his leash in my hand.
Yet, in the months since Eko died I have learned to find profound joy in simple moments. Watching the sunrise from the beach, sitting in front of the fire during a storm, running along the lake on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Sharing all of these experiences with Emily and Penny and savoring each moment of the time we spend together.
I am the king of a half-crumbled castle. If I look forward I see the wonderful life I’ve built, but just behind me lies the ruins of my loss and a receding tide which I know will one day come again. After Eko died I devoted myself to everything those waters did not wash away. I have a stronger relationship with Emily, with Penny and with myself than ever before. I have fortified what’s left of my castle as if somehow I can save it from its inevitable fate.
But I know I cannot.
In fact, by devoting so much effort to “what is,” I have neglected to nurture the opportunities of “what could be.” I have reinforced the walls, bridges and foundations of my life but I have built nothing new. The weight of Zero, the heavy burden of looming nothingness, chained me to the prison of inaction.
Recently I decided to confront Zero. To contend with its painful truths and to accept it as an inevitable outcome. I am learning to hold Zero as close to my heart as I do Eko. We cannot fight Zero, but we can learn to love it. We can build our sandcastles, watch them wash away, and joyfully build new castles in their place. But in order to do so we first must answer the existential question, “Why?”
Why do anything when we know it will succumb to the waves of time? Why struggle and sweat and suffer when you know that whatever you create, it cannot last?
As I wrote last week, I have wrestled with that question for the past few months. Quite often my answer was, “I don’t know.” But then I’d see an email from someone thanking me for helping articulate the loss they felt with their own dog. Or I’d read a message from someone on the other side of the planet who we inspired to add a dog to their family. A mother wrote to me about how happy our videos made her son. A father told me his daughter was no longer scared of dogs after giggling through Instagram clips of Eko and Penny’s antics.
Each of these moments led me to a new answer for that question of purpose. I learned that just because something washes away does mean that it is gone. I have seen the pieces of what I lost wash up on shores across the world. I have watched people find courage in those pieces. It is not the mighty, infallible courage of gods. It’s the broken, humble courage of humanity. The type of courage it takes to begin again.
So what is Zero? For me, Zero is the name of that courage.
It is a courage I am fortunate to have shared with so many. It is a courage I must now embrace for my future. Because I have discovered the true measure of a man is not what his love can build for himself, but what his love can build for others.
With that in mind, the better question for today might not be “What is Zero?” but “Who is Zero?”
Well, that’s an interesting story…