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The Things Worth Leaving Behind

marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, eko

It used to be easy to pack my car. When it was just Eko and me, even when we lived on the road for a year, the trunk was never full and the cabin was always spacious. I could afford to be thoughtless about the bags I carried because I was never forced to leave anything behind.

A marriage, a child, and two dogs later – the question is no longer can we fit everything, but can we even fit everyone? With each subsequent road trip, solving the puzzle of how to squeeze the sum of my life into a single vehicle grows ever more challenging.

Looking back on our summer of travel there was a simple answer. Leave Penny and Zero behind. Place them in the safe hands of family or trusted boarder and go on the journey without them. Vacations would be so much easier and less time-consuming. All it would cost is a week away from the dogs.

And is bringing the dogs really worth leaving most of my own bags? Is it worth the discomfort of a fifteen hour drive each way? Is it worth limiting where we can go and where we’re welcome to stay?

Despite the increasing complexities of life, the answer to each question remains an unequivocal “Yes.”

marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, eko

And why do I insist my dogs travel with us? Not because of what they would miss, but because of what would be missing from me.

To leave the dogs behind would mean I leave behind a vital part of myself. An integral part of my heart which would not be able to experience, savor and remember the journey. I bring the dogs  both for who I am and on behalf of who I will one day become.

Three years ago, Emily and I watched Eko and Penny race across a field in Vermont. Emily had just finished a grueling four years of residency and we were enjoying a long overdue vacation. We rolled in the grass with the dogs, carefree, then jogged back to the house to watch the sunset together.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, marking our territory, eko, penny

Life was good. Even then we recognized we rode a wave at its highest point, knowing it could not last. Thankfully, the dogs pulled us back into the moment so we could fully appreciate its bliss rather than look past it.

Not long after our trip, the wave crashed. Eko died. I imploded.

In the ruinous aftermath of my loss, memories of Eko felt like poison. Every time I thought about him I was paralyzed by a debilitating and visceral agony.

But even in my suffering I fought to hold fast to every moment we shared together. In time I learned to visit those moments, to speak to them, and to let them speak to me.

A few weeks ago, Penny and Zero danced across a familiar Vermont field. A place I have visited only twice in person, but countless times in memory. We again gathered for sunset. Zero hopped on the bench and cocked his head over the armrest to lean into the sun. The memory of Eko lifting his head into the light, just so, sent a swell through my heart. In an instant I relived the wonderful feeling I experienced that day years before.

marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, zero marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, eko

I also felt the familiar pull of loss, but I was buoyed in the moment by the love of Emily, Penny, Zero, and a happily babbling Lincoln. I resisted the urge to live in the past while embracing the opportunity to gratefully live with it. I watched the twin suns – one in my eyes, one in my heart – set together, and I felt at peace.

In that communion of past and present I spoke to myself in a language I never could have learned on my own. A wordless dialect of moments, memories and feelings – which otherwise might have been lost to the cacophony of the past – understood perfectly thanks to the tutelage of my dogs. The message was clear – whatever the cost, it is always worth delivering my love to this moment fully.

Because you do not get those moments back. Often, we forget to make note of them at all. We stare ahead, navigating through life, and fail to turn our heads to revel in where we are along our passage. Fortunately, my dogs always find a way to anchor my heart in the present.

Penny licking ice cream off of Lincoln’s face while he laughs hysterically. Zero diving into the waves with unencumbered enthusiasm. Lounging with the dogs at sunset, watching the separate silhouettes of Emily and Lincoln become one as he lays his tired head on her chest. These are my anchors. Now, and always.

marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, zero

I have no memories of the clothes I bring on vacation. The seemingly interminable hours in the car quickly fade behind me. I rarely remember much about the houses or hotels where we stay. But I hold in my heart so many beautiful and vivid moments from so many trips because I shared them with my dogs. This tells me all I need to know.

It is worth discarding every bag and driving every extra mile to bring the dogs with us. What could I possibly need to bring with me more important than my whole heart?

One day I will discover my son is too tall for a dog to lick his face. His body too heavy for his mother to hold. A part of me will lament what I have lost. A greater part will thank my dogs for teaching me to leave everything else behind so that I may carry those memories of him with me always.

marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, zero
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44 Comments

OMGosh Will, once again you have expressed so much of what I feel on the joys of traveling with our pups. Yes, yes, and yes. Life without them is not an option for me and probably many others. Thank you for helping to express the why so beautifully in words.

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