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February 22, 2017

A Birthday Celebration

Last Friday the sun bathed Chicago in a warmth that day hadn’t felt in over a hundred years. Deep in the heart of winter, a day that should have been gray and dark was blue and bright. I stepped into the morning light with Zero and Penny. In unison we embraced ancient instinct and lifted our faces to the sky.My neighbor waved and gave a mischievous grin as he jogged past us in shorts, headed towards the beachfront path. Days like this are shared amongst Chicagoans like a joyful secret. In word and in deed we whisper, “Can you believe this?”The answer, of course, is a resounding“No!” But that does not stop us from reveling in the unexpected gift. I set a course with the dogs for the shore of Lake Michigan. It is there, more than anywhere else in the city, where the power of days like these is felt most profoundly. Where people gather to venerate this first promise of better days ahead. We joined the eastward pilgrimage, seeking our part of that shared serenity.
Rhodesian Ridgeback, Montrose Dog Beach, Chicago, Marking Our TerritoryLast Friday the sun bathed Chicago in a warmth that day hadn’t felt in over a hundred years. Deep in the heart of winter, a day that should have been gray and dark was blue and bright. I stepped into the morning light with Zero and Penny. In unison we embraced ancient instinct and lifted our faces to the sky.My neighbor waved and gave a mischievous grin as he jogged past us in shorts, headed towards the beachfront path. Days like this are shared amongst Chicagoans like a joyful secret. In word and in deed we whisper, “Can you believe this?”The answer, of course, is a resounding“No!” But that does not stop us from reveling in the unexpected gift. I set a course with the dogs for the shore of Lake Michigan. It is there, more than anywhere else in the city, where the power of days like these is felt most profoundly. Where people gather to venerate this first promise of better days ahead. We joined the eastward pilgrimage, seeking our part of that shared serenity.I guided Zero and Penny to a quiet section of wall overlooking the lake. The shore, which should have been frozen in ice, instead appeared frozen in time. The placid water made it seem the lake was holding its breath to make the moment last.Zero and Penny embraced the warm concrete with contented sighs and in that perfect moment on that perfect day I cried.I cried because last Friday is Eko’s birthday. Was Eko’s birthday. Should have been Eko’s sixth birthday. And instead of living in this day and in this world, my mind wandered into a world where I shared the sunshine with Eko.A gift and curse of being human is that we can fully imagine and inhabit worlds other than our own. I daydreamed I held Eko’s head in my lap, reflecting on all our years together and all our years still to come. In this world I’d never met Zero, never heard of Zero, never thought of Zero.And I had to admit there was a dark and greedy part of my heart where I was okay with that. A selfish part of my soul which would callously trade away Zero and so much more for the chance to share the sun with Eko again.Sitting with Zero and Penny, but dreaming of Eko, I realized how lucky we are that dogs do not ask us to account for our flaws and failures. Instead, they allow us to face those dark places without judgment. So I spoke aloud to Zero, my perfect pup, about why I am an imperfect man.“All you’ve done is love me, yet here I am wishing I never met you. That’s pretty messed up.” I said while holding my puppy close. “I wish Eko could be here. But I still wish you could be here with us too. Emily said two dogs – max – but I think we could get her to make an exception for you.”Rhodesian Ridgeback, puppy, Chicago, marking our territoryZero carefully considered my confession and responded with a kiss, a stretch and a few joyful tail wags. Because dogs do not care what we wish or feel or think about other worlds. They simply demand we give this world and this moment the love it deserves.Zero’s puppy exuberance reminded me of an old Quaker saying – attributed to Stephen Grellet –  but which I now suspect was first whispered to him by his dog:I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.I realized every moment I spent dreaming of other worlds was a moment stolen from this one. A moment of neglect which could have instead been used for good.So I gathered myself and my pups and raced across the grass. With a graceless roll I tumbled to the ground and we wrestled until we were all happily panting from the exertion.Walking home my thoughts returned to Eko. Not in my arms in some other world, but in my heart in this one. Reminding me through Zero to never defer love as I make my way through life.We paused to take in a final view of the lake. Again we lifted our faces for one last moment in the sun.And for that moment I had it. The feeling that I was living in and loving this world so completely that I wouldn’t trade it for any other.I lost the feeling, as I often do. But that’s okay. My dogs are always gracious enough to help me find it again.Rhodesian Ridgeback, puppy, Chicago, marking our territoryOn his birthday, and every day, I can imagine no better celebration of Eko than to continue discovering and sharing moments of unmitigated love. 

Comments for A Birthday Celebration

  1. I hear ya… and I fear Easys first birthday without him…. Happy Birthday to your beloved BFF….

  2. KarenS says:

    He was a dog of a lifetime! I’ve celebrated the joy of each of my beloved boys birthdays with special treats. And I know it’s coming when I will have much different feelings. You are so right, dogs don’t judge us. They love us for all our strengths and flaws.

  3. Cindy says:

    Thank you. You are a
    most genuine and profound philosopher of the purist kind. Thank you… to infinity and beyond.

  4. I have been exactly there, Will. It’s a deep darkly felt “secret” that I think many dog owners feel after an incredible loss… But as you said, Zero understands your heart and knows only love for you no matter which world you inhabit. As time goes on, you may continue to have this feeling, but that puppy kiss and tail wag will always be waiting for you.

    This had to be incredibly difficult to admit “out loud”, so thank you for that. And know you are not alone. It’s been over five years for me losing Sweet Pea and with two new dogs since then and I still wander into that other world some days and have those same thoughts. It’s a testament to our deeply felt love for these amazing animals.

    Happy birthday, Mr. Eko. The world misses you on your special day and every day.

  5. Victoria Coleman says:

    as always so well written it brought me to tears – treasure all you have because life is fleeting and love endures

  6. fran welch says:

    I m gonna cry, i have had 2 friends, u Will n Marie Bocker lose their pups wuth in a week of each other. It simply broke my heart. I cried for months for Eko n Bocker, a therpy dog, entertainer, etc. I followed both of u n i thought my heart would collapse for the pain i felt for these 2 wonderful, beautiful pups. Never met them but loved them from afar for the pups they were. DEAR EKO, happy birthday, wish u were here with penny, zero, will, n emily but for me too. I miss u so much with tears in my eyes, i love u forever.

  7. Obviously I totally “get” all of this post…….we lost Sammy a month before he would have turned 17 and just days before he would have had a last Christmas with us…….but we truly feel him every day in many ways and always will. That love is forever – but we are full of love after all, and made room in our hearts for Teddy – just as you did for Zero – and there are more smiles now and we are reminded that one thing you really can’t have too much of is LOVE. Past, present and future……it makes our worlds go ’round.

    Hugs, Pam

  8. Heart breaking yet affirmative; tears on my face. Will, your beautiful prose is a tribute not just to Eko, Penny and Zero but to the vagaries of the human spirit. Keep journeying and keep taking us all with you. Eko will stay alive in our hearts through your memories and Penny and Zero will bring joy, laughter and hope for the future through their continuing antics and exploits, always living present, teaching us all to forever live in the now. Blessings.

  9. Just beautiful, exquisite. Your raw honesty…heart-wrenching…….but I deeply admire you for it. I think all of us who have lost a beloved pet (and in your case, much, much too soon), can relate when we think/feel things with a new pet that has come to the family. I totally get it. My Angel Bobo has been gone since 2007 and I often still feel the same……….I feel guilty when I do, and, like you……attempt to immediately return to the moment and the love that is in front of me TODAY….if I don’t, too soon that will be gone too. ((((hugs))))

  10. Shirley Andonie says:

    Will, your posts sometimes bring a tear or two to my eyes, but always leave a smile on my face!

  11. coastingnz says:

    When we love so deeply our hearts will always be broken – be it Eko taken early, or Eko taken later in his life. No matter when he would be taken all our hearts would be broken – and they were. We never forget – and in fact if we did then we didn’t love as much as we thought and we all know that just isn’t the case. I still say good morning and good night every day to my Jeddyboy – gone now 9 years. Our pups teach us that unconditional love, that continual love – good and bad days. A thought of Eko will perk you up on a bad day and possibly bring you down on a good day – he is always with you, in your heart. Love the ones around you and they will bring you the same joys and heartache, as you say an unfortunate part of being human. Happy birthday Eko – you remain forever in my heart.

  12. Kismet says:

    Eko would have wanted you to have Zero. That doesn’t sound right but you know what I mean.

  13. Jo Rhodes says:

    Eko can never be far from you because you and we love him. Missing his physical presence must be excruciating . You’ll feel him again in the sunshine–and in familiar laments about getting a bath— even Zero just spent hours in the lake with you and Penny. I hate this sadness, but I love knowing Eko.– And Penny and Zero– with wrinkles and paws and the cutest puppy belly!!!
    Joyfully and sadly, Jo,Sam and Dean

  14. Emmadog says:

    June will be our tough month as Katie passed away on Bailie’s birthday, and her birthday would have been ten days later. Mom often wishes Katie was here with us and she talks about how much she would love little Madison, but it will never be. Life is beautiful, yet very cruel. Part of the journey is learning to live through the hard times. Zero came to you for a reason, maybe he will show you signs of Eko. Madison has shown us many signs of Katie to help us know we are doing the right thing.

  15. Eve Walraven says:

    Eko will forever live in all of ours hearts but yours has the biggest part of him there. Thank you for sharing that goofy lovable fellow EKO and it looks like Zero might be the best thing to fill that big hole back in. May he bring you all the joys of life and laughter. Love the photo with his paw touching Penny’s and may they go paw in your hand thru this crazy thing called Life. Happy Birthday to spirit Eko .

  16. '@heatherp says:

    Thank you for sharing your grief journey. I have just begun mine. My beautiful Ridgeback girl, Zari, died 5 weeks ago. She was only nine years old! My heart is broken. For the first time in my life I do not have a dog and I am lost. Your posts help me to see that sometime, in the distant future, I will welcome a new baby into my life. For now I am just trying to get through each day without Zari.

  17. Ginny says:

    Eko waits at the Rainbow Bridge. I will be one day stop there for the awesome dogs and cats I loved here. I understand as only a pet owner can. So happy you found Zero. I know he and Penny will fill your days with joy as only a dog can.

  18. lynneplus3 says:

    Happy birthday Eko!
    I like this line from the song The Dance: I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.

  19. Paul Fehrenbacher says:

    Will,

    Reading this brought me to tears on my train ride down to Charleston this morning. I wish that I would have known that Friday was Eko’s birthday – it’s on my calendar now.

    The day that I adopted Dufresne is coming up, which also happens to be close to the time that I lost Simon & Ginger in the divorce. So many mixed emotions that I could relate to in your post today.

    You have such an amazing God-given talent to share your kind heart and inspiring insights with the world through your writings.

    Honored to say you’re a friend and colleague.

    -Paul

    Paul A. Fehrenbacher Co-founder & CEO 4619 N Ravenswood Ave Suite 103, Chicago, IL 60640 312-624-8787 PaulF@PawPawHoldings.com

    >

  20. Crazy that Chicago is warm and NorCal is cold and very wet. As for me Cold weather but a warm heart for Eko. I feel as though I knew him and in my own small way miss him. Happy Birthday Eko; through Will you continue to inspire me and my pups!

  21. Anne says:

    Just got back from a short road trip with my daughter and son and one of our Rhodies…here’s an oldie, but goodie…’Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all. Alfred, Lord Tennyson

  22. Shalini says:

    Happy birthday to sweet Eko who is undoubtedly making someone very happy in an alternate universe. <3

  23. T&S says:

    When we got our male RR, he stole my heart. I could never imagine to love any other dog like that.
    Then we got our female RR, and I feel in love with her too (she sneaked into my heart). And because of her, I knew I could love another dog so much.
    But still, I have that feeling about our male RR… feeling similar to first love. My male RR was my first “dog love” so that makes him a little more special (btw my husband calls him “mommas child”).And thats ok.
    And its ok for you to love Eko a little bit more and keep that special part of your heart for him.
    I am sure Zero will find a way and a place in your heart.

  24. Judy Petitto says:

    Happy Birthday sweet Eko.We all miss you.I wish there were three and in your Dad and Mom’s heart there are.Thanks for sending the sun on your birthday to warm Will Penny and Zero’s lives and to remind us to always look up.

  25. TheRidgebackLife says:

    I believe I’ve said it before; your writing touches me. Every thought processed that I haven’t been able to verbalized, I have read in your words. For that, I am eternally grateful. Six years later, I still miss my Poco, but Neeka and Khoi have filled me with so much love (and grey hairs), her loss has been replaced with fond memories. Like Emily, we have limited ourselves to two dogs, although Zero has really been taxing that rule. We will just have to live vicariously through you. Thank you Will!

  26. Karen says:

    Happy Birthday Eko…..

  27. Happy belated to Eko as you celebrated his all too short life. Carpe diem to you and your newest concentrated instrument of love.

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