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September 30, 2019

The Scar I’m Most Proud Of

I grew up in a restaurant where scars were the closest thing anyone had to a resume. The prep cook’s hands looked like knife-sewn stitchwork quilts, and the line cooks all shared the same smooth fingerprints from searing burns. The mark of a novice pizza maker, like myself, was brands across the forearm from inexpert removal of a pie at the back of the 700° oven.By the end of my less than illustrious tenure, my arms were scored with the bright red lashings. For years afterwards the scars remained distinct and pronounced against my skin. I still shudder when recalling the excruciating sizzle of the oven, but these days only I can see the scars. And only if I look closely. The scars, and their lessons, are now an inextricable part of who I am. It seems the marks on our hearts are the same. 

I grew up in a restaurant where scars were the closest thing anyone had to a resume. 

The prep cook’s hands looked like knife-sewn stitchwork quilts, and the line cooks all shared the same smooth fingerprints from searing burns. The mark of a novice pizza maker, like myself, was brands across the forearm from inexpert removal of a pie at the back of the 700° oven.

By the end of my less than illustrious tenure, my arms were scored with the bright red lashings. For years afterwards the scars remained distinct and pronounced against my skin. I still shudder when recalling the excruciating sizzle of the oven, but these days only I can see the scars. And only if I look closely. The scars, and their lessons, are now an inextricable part of who I am. 

It seems the marks on our hearts are the same. 


Eko died three years ago yesterday. In the years since I’ve written about loss as a measure of both time and space. Loss as a painful lesion across a once pristine stretch of heart. Loss as an invasive grief which I could not excise but refused to accept.

But scars are strange things. Their once distinct boundaries slowly blur. Their gnarled texture softens. Their conflagration of color burns out and dulls until neatly blended. These unwelcome sufferings become familiar companions. We begin to forget what the unblemished skin ever looked like.

I’ve now known my scars for half as long as I knew Eko. Sooner than I’d like, the days with my scars will outnumber the days with my puppy. Already, I struggle to recall what I looked like before Eko’s death. The man I picture seems nearly a stranger.


We are remade by the time we spend with our dogs and then unmade by the moment we lose them. I’ve written much about those transformative experiences, but only now do I have the perspective to consider the transformation Eko made possible after he died.

That transformation began when Eko was just a puppy. I was so desperate to love and protect my dog that I treated him with the care of a museum curator. But just a couple weeks after I brought him home Eko picked up his first scar – a notch on his ear from eagerly diving into the maw of a friend’s dog.

I winced every time I saw the hard scab on his soft coat, but Eko didn’t seem to mind. Nor did he care much about any of the scrapes and scars he accumulated over the years. Because Rhodesian Ridgebacks are not antiquities to be preserved. The flawless coat they’re born with is not meant to remain so. Their supple paw pads are not meant to go unworn. These creatures intuitively understand life is a treasure meant to be spent, not hoarded. 

To love a Ridgeback means accepting the cost of an unforgettable journey is innumerable scars. 

In time I came to understand the lesson —  the scars were Eko’s resume. His job? Teaching a boy that love is not safety, it’s vulnerability.

And I have never felt more vulnerable than I did after Eko died. I was lost and broken. I was also, as I learned the morning after Eko’s death, a father-to-be. 

I felt no joy for the child we’d dreamed about, only fear at all the ways Emily’s pregnancy might end tragically. My fear tethered the yearnings of my heart so that it could not rise high enough to break from another fall.

It was a miserable time and I was a miserable person. For months I did little more than stare at my wounds numbly. I became a detached stoic, unfeeling at circumstance so that I could not be hurt by it. It was three words from Emily which brought me back.

“You’re my Eko”

It was an invocation to be the man my puppy taught me to be. Flawed and scarred, but undaunted. In three words she cut loose the ballast on my heart so that it could rise again.

Three years later and I am transformed by Eko’s memory. The scar has faded, but I remember. I remembered Eko when I offered my love to a new puppy. I remembered Eko when I gave my heart unequivocally to my son. I remember Eko each time I am vulnerable but choose love over fear.

Yesterday morning at sunrise, Emily and I walked to the beach, Lincoln between us, Penny and Zero on either side. The dogs raced down the shore, Lincoln whooped, Emily smiled and my scarred heart was grateful for the dog who transformed me and made the moment possible.

I know I will be cast down and broken again. More reckonings undoubtedly await. These are the costs of a worthy journey. But I will never again hide from this price or be cowed in fear of the day I must pay it.

Because my scars are my resume, and the job my puppy entrusted me with is ever unfinished. Today, and all days, l race ahead with my heart lifted high. Full, vulnerable and free, as Eko insisted it must always be. 

Comments for The Scar I’m Most Proud Of

  1. thankf sor this wonderful post… maybe I can see it like you once and I can find peace… I hope so much that this day will come…

  2. jy195 says:

    Beautiful will. There is always such growth in vulnerability…keep going

  3. VicMD says:

    Love is never easy, and its loss devastating. But it is that love, that makes life worthwhile.

    No dog can ever fill that Eko shaped hole in your heart. Not Penny, not Zero….It’s not their job. Their job is to fill the Penny and Zero shaped holes in your heart you didn’t know you had.

  4. OlRedHair says:

    Beautiful, Will. Your sharing your journey is such a help to me. I am one year and five months into mine. Thank you, and please continue. You have such an incredible way of putting feelings into words.

  5. John Maginn & Nellie says:

    Thanks for writing that essay, Will. I know it was hard. We loved Eko, too, and see your joy with Emily, Lincoln, Zero and of course, Penny, who is one in a million. A dear (elderly) friend just lost one of his Ridgebacks. I sent a memorial gift but cannot work up the courage to call just yet. Their dog, Sam, was a tremendous athlete and a family member in every way. This week, Nellie (my RR) and I are going to Folly Beach, not far from our home, here in Charleston, SC. I will turn her loose on that warm, sunny shore and enjoy her blazing speed through the shallows. I will think of Eko & Sam, their spirits riding the wind like only a Ridgeback can and be grateful for this precious moment. Your scars are shared but your friends; try to embrace that thought. Blessings & comfort to you and your beautiful family!

  6. Laura says:

    I collect quotes from your writing, your words are worthy of that. Beautiful and truthful, because of the vulnerability Eko brought out in you. Thank you, and thank Emily for her wisdom.

  7. Lena Grape Lilliehorn says:

    Thanks for the beautiful text, Will, the tears flow as I read. I also look at my scars, both the outer ones and the ones I carry in my heart. It’s been four months and three days since we lost our beloved RR Empi and I miss her every single day. The first thing I think of when I wake up is when she stretched and yawned in bed, it’s moments I remember forever and long for.
    We hope that a new little puppy will be born in November and that it will be a dog for us. If it becomes a puppy from that litter, it is a relative of our previous RR’s and I can’t imagine a better dog for our family.
    Thank you for your pictures, videos and texts, it is a great comfort during the eternally long wait we are suffering right now.

  8. Shannon says:

    Wow. Beautiful post.

  9. R. Brown says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I knew the date was coming up for your tragic loss. Life can be so cruel and sad, but we also find joy in the love, laughter, and memories we share with those around us. You have a wonderful and blessed life!

  10. Cynthia Marquez says:

    What a truly lovely post. I am sitting here crying both for you and myself. I have loved 4 ridgebacks and my boy Ridge has a special place in my heart. He only had 1/2 foot when I adopted him and it has caused innumerable problems with his back, arthritis, and other issues. I have gladly spent a fortune on braces, shoes, acupuncture – all attempts to keep him with me and pain free. We have adventured and faced the world together. He is my Calamity James with the scars to prove it. He was just diagnosed with cancer and the grief is intolerable. We are so tightly bound the pain is overwhelming. Thank you for writing about after the pain fades a little because I’m having problems seeing that right now.

  11. Such a beautiful and poignant remembrance. You are so fortunate to have had an Eko, and to be someone else’s Eko-sadly not everyone experiences those life pleasures.

  12. Alison says:

    Such truth and love in your words, Will. Tears are streaming down my face, knowing that same terrain, touching those same worn scars. What an absolutely beautiful piece of writing to share to remember Eko and for all of us to remember our well loved scars.

  13. Kismet says:

    A lot of dogs are like that Kyla (RIP2014) was like that. Despite their all-too-short lives, we get another. It’s not exactly the same but it’s also good.

  14. Eve says:

    Such touching words were never truer than they are after a loss of any kind! Life is always different after such a tragedy and when we get thru it you can only get stronger to come out of it! HUG the ones you love and tell them everyday!! HUGS & LOVE to you and the gang!!

  15. Carol says:

    Tearing up reading your words. I lost my boyfriend Brett a little over a year and a half ago to colon cancer. It was awful. Getting diagnosed with breast cancer while being a caregiver was added insult to injury. I believe Brett sent me “Pedro” at the exact 6 month mark to help me heal, or to punish me, not sure. Either way, my RR mix (or is he purebred with only a ridge on his neck?) definitely consumes me and keeps my mind on other things other than cancer which took him, but spared me…although my scars are a reminder that I will forever deal with it.

  16. Geri Zeibert says:

    As usual, you move me to tears. I think you should write a book, you are gifted with the ability to move your reader. You open a window into your soul and thus allow them to access their’s. This is not to be treated lightly. It is not only a gift but a responsibility. When we are able to help others to examine their souls, we encourage empathy and thus improve the world for everyone in it. Keep writing but you need to widen your audience. You owe it not just to yourself but to all of us. Because what each of us do to make the world a bit kinder, a bit more understanding, matters. We all desperately need that, never more decisively than we do today!

  17. Will,
    Would you please run for president! Your countrymen need you. Your thoughtful reflections and humour are so needed more than ever.

  18. Eve Uhlmann says:

    The heart is a funny thing – it breaks & mends, breaks & mends over & over .. over 2 years ago I lost my first RR Poppy… tears still come very easily even though I have 2 new RR’s. But I would do it again, in a heartbeat.

  19. Ricki says:

    I totally agree with Geri. You have a way with words that transforms in our hearts and minds. Start writing!!!!

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