A few months into our year on the road together, Eko and I checked into a well-appointed Houston hotel. As I handed my credit card across the counter, a hard-marching bride led her wedding party through the lobby. When she saw Eko, the bride ordered the company to an abrupt halt.
“Can I pet your dog?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said.
The woman tucked her flowing dress, knelt, and held Eko’s head in her hands. She took a deep breath and reverently stroked his soft coat. The groom settled for second that day because Eko planted an enthusiastic kiss on his new friend. I started to apologize but the bride spoke first.
“Thank you. I needed that.”
As she stepped into her limousine, I wondered exactly what Eko had offered the woman. The bride also reminded me that while I traveled with my dog, my longtime girlfriend traveled with her resume. Eko and I slogged through muddy hikes, Emily slogged through OBGYN residency interviews.
When I told people about Emily, they asked why I hadn’t married her yet. When Emily told people about me, they asked why was she was dating a dog blogger.
Some suggest Emily’s poor taste in men is due to hypnosis
I can’t speak to Emily’s lack of judgment. As for my own, I always said I would ask Emily to marry me when I was ready.
What did “ready” mean? I wasn’t quite sure. I felt like it meant “certain about the future.” It meant knowing where I was going. It meant being like Emily.
Emily always knew where she was going. When we first met in college, Emily had her next decade planned – medical school, residency, and a career as a physician. On the other hand, I switched majors, switched jobs and then switched my life upside down by deciding to freelance.
Emily moved through life with the poised determination of an Iditarod dog – always heading towards the finish line. I moved through life with the grace of a gangly puppy – well-intentioned, but crashing into everything.
A marriage proposal is exactly that, a proposal. I loved Emily madly but felt I had nothing worthy to propose.
“Hi, I’m an idiot with no money, no idea what I’m doing in life and I’m about to live in a car with my dog for a year – want to hitch your rising star to my broken wagon?” didn’t seem like much of an offer.
I could not ask Emily to step with me into such a foggy future, but I had no such qualms about driving into that fog with Eko. My hope was I would return from our adventure with the answers and certainty I sought. Only then would I feel worthy enough to propose to Emily.
During a break from her interviews, Emily met us in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Weary of polished professionalism, she eagerly dressed Eko and me up in matching Blues Brothers
outfits for a blog post. Through fits of laughter she snapped photos of her Jake and Elwood amidst the revelry.
We shared drinks with too much sugar and just enough alcohol. We danced with Eko in the streets as a stream of marching bands paraded by. We had love, we had the present moment, and it seemed like more than enough. Marriage could wait.
Residency interviews could not. At the end of our week together Emily flew home to finish the application process. As I packed the car for our next destination I was confident Emily, her class valedictorian, would match into residency at her first choice – Brown.
I closed the trunk and asked Eko a familiar question.
“Ready to go?”
As always, Eko eagerly hopped into the backseat. He never knew where we were going, but he did know we were going there together. That was enough for him.
If you spend enough time on the road you notice a familiar pattern in the journeys of others you meet along the way. They’re each navigating chance and fortune while wrestling gut-wrenching uncertainty.
In public, we present a façade of certainty to one another. A shared mirage to cover the humbling doubts we struggle with. But this trick is powerless when matched against a dog’s wagging tail. From brides to businessmen, countless travelers asked for a moment with Eko.
With relieved sighs, men and women shrugged off their emotional armor and bared themselves for my dog’s judgment. Always, Eko offered a rejuvenating moment of unequivocal, loving affirmation. And a kiss, just to make sure they knew he meant it. After watching Eko work his magic for so long, I began to suspect the antidote for life’s uncertainty is not answers. It’s acceptance – of our circumstances, of ourselves, and of each other.
Doctors are assigned training hospitals much like magical children are assigned school housing in Harry Potter
. But it’s a computer program, rather than a sentient hat, which sorts the soon-to-be-MDs.
After interviews, candidates and residency programs rank their preference for each other. The matching algorithm pairs candidates and programs with mutual interest. When the much hyped “Match Day” arrived, Emily was in Philadelphia while Eko and I holed up at a forgettable stop in the Southwest.
Emily opened her letter with one hand and held my phone call with the other. I lounged with Eko in the beat up motel, expecting a perfunctory announcement from Emily that she matched at Brown.
A sudden sobbing shook me from complacency.
“What’s going on? Where are we going?” I asked, frantically.
“Please. You have to come with me,” she replied.
Despite all our years together there was still a part of Emily which feared how our relationship would fare when carefully mapped plans went awry. A part of her which feared our love was somehow bound to our destination.
Suddenly, sharing love in the present moment didn’t seem like enough. Because it’s easy to be in love and make romantic promises while carousing the streets of New Orleans. But what could I promise when we faced sobering and unexpected difficulty?
Had I not spent so much time on the road, I think I would have tried to promise Emily the certainty of a perfect future together. But as I listened to Emily’s tearful voice, I finally admitted that certainty is an impossible promise. Instead, I promised Emily what Eko promised me – devotion.
I promised the type of devotion where you jump to answer the call of “Ready to go?” not because you know the destination, but because you don’t. Because no matter how far or arduous the journey may be, no distance or difficulty could ever be worse than the distance or difficulty of being apart.
I didn’t know where we were going, but I knew we were going there together. That was enough for me.
“I’m in!” I yelled. “Antarctica? Outer space? It doesn’t matter, I would follow you anywhere.”
Anywhere turned out to be Chicago, which as we’ve since learned, often feels like Antarctica. Over the phone, I offered Emily the same thing I’d seen Eko offer all those travelers – loving affirmation. As usual, I had no answers, but at last I understood that true love doesn’t require any.
Which is how, laying with my dog on the floor of a rather unromantic motel, with no money or job prospects, and no idea where I was going in life, I knew I was ready to take a knee beside my broken wagon and ask a shooting star if I could hitch a ride.
A few months later, Eko and I raced across the Northwest to meet Emily in Chicago. Home, at last. Emily and I both embraced the challenges, uncertainties and imperfections of our new surroundings, while Eko graciously helped me scratch together some money for an engagement ring. Then, on a late-winter evening, because nothing (and everything) had changed, I asked Emily to marry me. Surprising most of the world, myself included, she said yes.
I was the second best dressed guy at our wedding. Eko, in a well-fitting tuxedo, carried our rings down the aisle. It seemed only right the dog who showed me the power of a simple promise should be the one to carry the symbols of that promise.
I knelt down and welcomed my pup into my arms. As a paralyzing swell of emotions threaten to break over me, he licked my face and I laughed.
“Thank you. I needed that,” I told my pup.
I turned to Emily, said I loved her, and planted an enthusiastic kiss– just to make sure she knew I meant it.
Some say that kiss looked like this
Actually, they’re not too far off!
Yes, I may have stolen the move from my dog, but that’s where I get all my best ideas.
Happy Anniversary Will and Emily. Once again I am near tears as I read this and it’s true. Dogs teach us so much about us and our lives.,
Wishing you both many more anniversaries and all the surprises that come along with them.
That was absolutely amazing. Thank you, I needed that. 🙂
You two make a great balance. She probably keeps you looking for your goals, and you allow her to forget the goals and just enjoy life. The dogs are the icing on the cake. You are very lucky to have such a happy family, even if it is in Chicago…which is a nice place actually, but my mom prefers the real frigid winters with loads of snow that sticks around, so we are in Minnesnowta.
I always enjoy reading your blogs and sharing your lives with us. Isn’t it funny how much we can learn from our four-legged friends and how they can help so many strangers with just a kiss, hand shake or letting us pet them?
aaww sniffles and wipes tears away from my piggy face. Beautiful my friend. Absolutely beautiful. Where there’s love, there is always a way. Happy Anniversary. XOXO – Bacon
that was so wiónderful to read… thank you I NEEDED egg-sactly THAT today. You made this haunted tuesday to a good one :lo)
wonderful post- brought tears to my eyes – you are quite the writer Will (of course you have 3 wonderful muses to help you)
What a lovely love story. And you’re right — we are with our partners and our furballs, through whatever. That’s part of why we love them.
That was just wonderful!! We know just when our family needs…something. Maybe a kiss, maybe just someone to sit next to you while you are deep in thought, or a sweet sad face that always brings a smile. That unconditional love is the most amazing feeling and nothing can compare to it.
As always, thank you for sharing and reminding all how much better a life can be with just a pet, a slobber, or even a tail wag. We wish you and your family much love and joy for now and forever.
Sniff, sniff…what a sweet romantic post. Well done you ‘boys.’ And to think you got the girl of your dreams…just icing on the cake. <3
I hope you’ll consider writing a novel someday. Your insightful writing and pictures are fantastic and I routinely want more to read when I reach the end of each blog. Thank you for sharing. It couldn’t be better.
OH that was very moving shows how you are learning to listening with your heart! Love this one!! Keep up the good work! Hugs to you all!! Especially Eko & Penny!
What was Emily thinking? Was she thinking? Dog bloggers are notoriously bad. Bird bloggers, on the other hand … 🙂
oh man – thought I missed your blogs but with tears streaming down my face I’m starting to have second thoughts. Seriously – no seriously, that was awesome. Awesome for you to share your story – yours, Ems and Ekos story really. Bloody beautiful – following you has been like watching an evolving TV series where they start part way through and fill in some of the gaps as the series goes on – you’ve just filled in the most important part. We knew you went off for a year with Eko – but what had happened to Emily and why did she allow (not the right word but I’m not as good with words as you are) to go and how did you get cope being apart for so long. The story has been told now – and it was well worth waiting for. Don’t know either of you but feel actually do and love you all for it – sharing your thoughts, your fears, your loves, your losses. Give Eko a kiss from us in NZ – he is a treasure for sure.
I don’t quite know what to say other than this is a most beautiful story of pure, absolutely, unquestioning love……..for two people and two dogs who were totally meant to travel the path of life together….always. You had to wait for the right moment but those of us who followed you before you dropped to that knee KNEW you and Emily were RIGHT…..and right you shall stay. I am sure of it. Thanks for sharing the inside story of how Cinderella met her Prince.
Hugs, Pam (and Sam)
Will, this is great. No, great isn’t good enough. I have no words. I’m loving your life’s stories. And, yes, I needed that. ❤️❤️❤️❤️ Four hearts of love for you, Emily, Eko, and Penny.
Wow – (not that I’m an expert but I know when I LOL and get choked up it must be good!) you’re writing has gone to a new level. Marriage is definitely working for you. So keep taking your cues from Eko and keep that pretty and successful bride of yours happy, and life will be good.
Best line: He never knew where we were going, but he did know we were going there together. That was enough for him.”.
Words to live by! Ellen Degeneres once said you can take a dog for a five mile walk,come home and then say “lets go again” and they do! They don’t yawn and say “maybe later.” Love that. Love your words. Great post!!!
We are reading you (introduced through Petcentric) and studying your dog advice because we intend to get a ridgeback when I retire (about four years…). Didn’t bargain on getting such a wonderful writer as well! Please keep it up… Give our best to Emily, Eco, and Penny.
Aw, I loved this. And what beautiful photos of the dogs (you two looked pretty good too! )
I second the novel idea. Beautiful post, Will. Thanks to you and Emily for sharing Eko, Penny, and your love story with all of us.
Once again, a little vignette about Eko turns into universal truth. This blog is one of my most favorite, dog or otherwise. Thank you for sharing so much of your life and reminding us how the little things are the big things.
I always love your posts, but I especially love this one. My longtime boyfriend is in his last year of med school and is starting to get residency interviews. The rest of this process isn’t too far off. I like to have everything planned so it’s taking a lot of willpower to be okay with not knowing where we’re going! Thanks for the reminder that the location doesn’t really matter. 🙂
I have tears…..so many tears! Of happiness, of the beauty of this post. You and Emily are the perfect balance. You are an incredibly talented, creative, “free-spirit”, which balances (and probably stimulates and soothes), Emily’s more practical, scientific mind. You each have what the other needs, together, you make magic. Happy Happy, albeit belated Anniversary! I cannot believe an entire year has gone by already!!! Much love to all of you! xoxo
You nailed it Will. Beautiful. Thank you. Love speaks to us if only we listen. We lost our ridgie Roxy last year and despite swearing we wouldn’t get another for fear of getting hurt again, your blog inspired us to take the plunge and get our second RR Abby. A year later, we are so happy we did. In a few weeks we are bringing home a new ridgie pup Tara. My husband and I have been married 32 years. It certainly looks like you and Emily have what it takes to have a beautiful life together. We wish you the best always!
Beautiful. Lovely. So Philosophical! Even knowing the end result, I was enthralled with this post. And I would have given anything for a dog to come along right before I marched down the aisle. Out of nowhere, I got the shakes and could barely stand. That was one blessed bride, and you and Emily are a blessed couple.
[…] to true north, but inward to true self. That needle led me across the continent, pointed me down the wedding aisle, lifted me to blissful heights, dragged me through hell, and showed me the way out. That needle […]
Wow. What beautiful writing. As if I didn’t love dogs and reading enough already. A “paralyzing swell of emotions threaten to break over me” with each new step I took down the aisle if your article. So inspiring. So elegant. Thank you.
Thanks for all the kind words, glad you liked the post.
After reading this, all I can say is, Emily is every bit as lucky to have found you, as you are to have found her. May your love grow for decades to come!
Okay, not to sound cheesy but this actually was super profound and brought tears to my eyes! I’m planning on getting a Rhodesian Ridgeback and so I’ve watched a ton of your videos, but never read your writing until now. I love it! This is the second thing I read, the first thing was your quarterlife crisis essay for Notre Dame, and I just want to say that you’re writing is my favorite kind, deep, humorous, entertaining, inspiring. Nice work.
We have followed your posts for sometime, now, and enjoy them all. Our two RR’s watch you on YouTube. You know that Emily is a rare treasure. Her unconditional love for her family is so obvious. Her smile with the pups and kids is awesome. So genuine and sincere. You are blessed, Will. All your videos are a hoot, but the reunion with Eko & Emily is our favorite. Eko knew the right partner for you. We have sent a plush Eko to two families with RR’s, plus we have our own. Eko is with us , too. His spirit, I mean. Unconditional love. That’s magic.