One year ago I held Lincoln in my arms for the first time. An ember cast forward from the bonfire of life into the tinderbox of my arms.
He was such a precarious light. His flickering breath barely perceptible against my chest. Just past the corners of my vision I felt the encroaching fear some menace in the infinite darkness of things I could not see would extinguish this spark.
The temptation was to turn towards the darkness. To claw at it. Build a wall against it. Stand between it and my tiny light. But thankfully my dogs have taught me such attempts are futile.
So when I held Lincoln that first time I made no effort to keep the darkness at bay. Instead I began to gather kindling.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I have long accepted that less as a transient state and more as a personality trait. I googled, “What do you do with a baby?” but found the suggestions painfully boring. Thus having exhausted the full scope of human knowledge I decided to let Penny and Zero lead the way.
This meant Lincoln spent much of his first year at the dog beach. He slept so snugly during those initial visits most people didn’t believe there was a baby tucked underneath the hood of the carrier.
When summer faded and the beach cleared, the little creature hugging my chest poked his head out – eyes open, consciousness stirring. While dawn lingered over the horizon, Penny and Zero rose to great heights, as if to taunt the lazy winter sun into rising above them. We watched their dancing silhouettes promise that if the sun would not do its job, the joy of these two dogs would light our day.
After braving frigid weather in his bright red snowsuit, Lincoln warmed himself contentedly against the heat of the slumbering dogs. When it was time for a nap, the dogs followed me to Lincoln’s room and lay at our feet while I rocked Lincoln and sang:
Show me the way to go home
I’m tired and I want to go to bed
I had a little drink about an hour ago, and it’s gone right to my head
Wherever I may roam
On land or sea or foam
You can always hear me singing this song
Show me the way to go home
When Lincoln woke from his naps he was greeted with eager tail wags and raucous wrestling. When he began to crawl, Lincoln often attempted to dive headfirst into the fray. When he watched me reward the dogs for not obliging his attempts to join them, Lincoln’s eyes searched for understanding and meaning behind the act. All these moments helping to build this ember up to a roaring blaze.
I tended my little fire with a bellows made of two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, who between them fed Lincoln the air he needed to grow. There are many ways to build a fire, but this is the way I know. Lit by love, fueled by experience, stoked by the relentless vitality of dogs.
Still, the darkness loomed. In February we rushed Lincoln to the ER for a sudden viral infection which threatened to close his airway. I once again felt that desire to cover my vulnerable light and protect it.
So we rekindled the fire, feeding Lincoln all the sights and sounds and experiences we could offer. Mindful of the darkness, but never letting it get between us and our growing light.
On the morning of Lincoln’s birthday this past Monday we took a family trip to the dog beach. For the first time in all our trips, Lincoln was not attached to me. While I waded out with Zero and Penny, Lincoln stood on his own next to Emily. He looked over his shoulder with a quizzical expression and laughed. Uncertain of what was going on, but delighted to be a part of the experience. In that at least, he takes after his father.
I left Lincoln to discover the sand with his own feet and used mine to race the dogs across the shallows. When we’d exhausted ourselves, I turned back to shore and waved to Emily and Lincoln. The light showing me the way to go home.
At one, Lincoln burns brighter than ever. He runs and smiles and plays with the wild verve of a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Although the AKC repeatedly refuses my attempts to register him as such, I like to think Penny and Zero have recognized him as an honorary member of the pack.
As he begins to discover himself – at the beach and in this world – Lincoln will need that membership. The one which teaches him that even in darkness, even when choking, even when reduced to ash, we must sustain the fire that drives us. And when we cannot?
Well, the family secret is that a dog is always willing to lend you a light. A light to help you find your way forward, and find your way home.
I’m grateful to Eko, Zero and Penny for always lending their light to me. I feel even more fortunate to now share their gift with my son.
Happy birthday, Link!