I come back to this blog on this day each year to meditate on that dog and that loss because I know Eko is not done teaching me. The wisdom of his memory waits ready for the man who was too young or in too much pain to understand the lessons those years ago.
But as this day loomed, I resisted the quiet communion with my puppy. I feared Eko’s memory would no longer recognize me. The boy he left is gone, replaced by a man who finds it harder and harder to remember the boy.
Was that really me who was so cavalier to believe he could put his life on hold to get the puppy he always dreamed about? So carefree to delight in having no plan beyond caring for Eko? So willing to live out of a car without a destination in life beyond the next place we stopped?
Just a few short years later and I struggle to recall who I was before. Before Eko’s death broke me, before Penny demanded I get out of bed, before Zero helped me find my way, before becoming a father restored me, and becoming a father again remade me.
How could I expect Eko’s memory to recognize and guide someone he’d never met, living a life he never knew? I imagined trying to explain it all to him as he faithfully listened, but when I got to the part about Penny now ruling the roost it was too much of a stretch for even an imagined conversation with a dog.
Penny? Penny Mayhem? My insane kid sister is in charge? Things must be even worse than I imagined…
And I’d laugh, because this year, of all years, it certainly feels that way. “Oh yeah, it’s all going to hell,” I’d reply. “So we figured who better to lead us than the Queen of the Damned.”
The daydream made my smile so I avoided shining the light of Eko’s spirit on my faded memories of the boy he loved so dearly. I was too afraid it would reveal that by forgetting myself I was forgetting him. To lose Eko again would be too much to bear, so I decided to set aside reflection and focus on simple remembrance. To go back to the beginning – the photos, the blogs, the videos, and remind myself of our time together.
I found the story no less thrilling for knowing the end. I reveled in our parade through New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and relived scrambles up steep ridges in the Rockies. I discovered the memory of Eko’s smile remains as vivid as ever. I closed my eyes and knew with certainty my hands recalled the exact shape of his head held between them. And in remembering Eko, I remembered myself. My hopes, my dreams, my love and the dog who forged them together.
In a moment of revelation I understood the memory of the boy is not truly fading. He now lives in the memory of the dog. The realization was at first profoundly saddening. Where I once thought I could at least hold onto the boy, I saw that he too was gone. And no more likely than Eko to recognize the man I’d become.
But I now have such profound gratitude for this difficult truth. Because it means the boy and the dog are bound as one, forever. As it should be. And though they are both gone, they have left me a truly priceless inheritance – a life and a family that would have been impossible without either of them.
Today, more than ever, my heart is at peace. I don’t need to worry over the dog or the boy – they have each other. Instead, I will cherish their gift by dancing with my wife, playing with my children and racing across the beach with my dogs.
At the end of the day we’ll flop on the couch. Emily will smile, Zero will lick Lincoln and Quinn in turn, Penny will demand the best seat, and I’ll laugh. Because in that moment on that couch I’ll know for certain life is even better than the boy or the dog could have imagined.
There’s so much to mourn, both in the past and present. Our lives and our world are teetering precariously. But this day I devote to gratitude for a boy and his dog. And all of you who joined us along the way. Thank you!