I used to believe love was a spark. That feeling when the steel of my soul struck against the flint of another’s and set my heart on fire.
We remember sparks vividly. The electricity of a first kiss. The awe of holding your child for the first time. The serenity of first meeting your dog and realizing they were always your dog – it just took a bit of time to find each other.
And what bonfires these sparks light! Skyward reaching blazes which fill our lives with light and warmth and comfort. Each one fueled with the precious tallow of our time. We tend these flames not as a labor of love, but a labor for love. Almost without exception we work under the hope that these are eternal pyres– or at the very least, that they will last as long as our devotion does.
Love shared with a pet makes no such pretense. In fact, it seems closer to madness than anything. Even the savviest salesman would struggle to close the deal. “Over here we have our romantic, familial, spiritual and humanistic models, all of which – if well maintained – could last your entire life!”
“What about that one?”
“Ah…well. I think this one must be broken. The dog requires your undivided care and attention for ten years, give or take, and then dies.”
“That’s the worst case scenario?”
“No, the best.”
Nevertheless, business is booming. A growing number of people choose to share their love with pets and we are more honest and open about the relationship than ever before. Name the latest and greatest site or service, and some of the most popular accounts are inevitably our oldest and most loyal companions. Each new update from these accounts is a monument to the incredible things made possible when we are with our dogs. The results are astounding. It seems most dogs these days are better traveled, better dressed, and more cultured than I am. (It’s a low bar, but still.)
Perversely, these bold proclamations make our eventual loss even more profound. Our joyful articulation of bright love cutoff by speechless sorrow. We cannot escape this fate, nor should we. It is a sacred responsibility quietly shared by all of us.
And I do mean all. A few years ago, Queen Elizabeth stopped breeding Corgis. The Queen has famously been associated with the breed her entire life and the royal corgis have been constant companions. Yet this a figure of immense wealth and power, despite having the means to own every corgi, chooses not to have one more to comfort her near her own end. Why? Because not even her majesty has the power to assure she will be with a new dog at their end.
After a life exalted, bowed to by generations of world leaders, even the Queen bows before her dogs.
When Eko died, I felt his love was extinguished with him. I closed the windows of my heart, drew the shades, and mourned in blackness. In my blind vigil I would strike my soul against Eko’s memory and sob when I felt no spark. I took the hollow ringing as proof his love had gone with him. But what I couldn’t see in the moment was that by closing off my heart I created a vacuum – an airless and cold space in which no fire could catch.
Not until I haggardly tore down the drapes and threw open the windows on behalf of a new puppy did I realize my error. When I finally had the courage to meet Eko’s memory with an open heart, the spark once again ignited my world. I was shocked by the enduring warmth of that love. It felt like Eko nuzzling his head into my chest with playful admonishment. What, you thought I would trust you to handle a new dog, a new baby, or a new day without my love?
I was humbled to discover the fire even larger than before, radiating heat and love and light through me. And I realized my mistake. I mistook love to be the spark. I thought love was the flame. But it is neither. Love is more than both those temporal things. Love is the prerequisite air which breathes life into the sparks and embers of our heart. It is the fuel for our fires, the whipping wind which shapes the dancing flames. It is always there, ready to be discovered, harnessed, stilled, and rediscovered.
This lesson in humility seems unique in the affairs of our hearts. It is a painful but beautiful truth revealed through our dogs, but only because we willingly accept the cost of discovering it.
So we are right to mourn a bright light gone dark, but we should never mistake the loss of life for the loss of love.
It is a fittingly joyful message from our dogs in the end. We can dance wildly around their fires today because although they one day will go dark, the love we share will help light our hearts always.