One day I hope to write a seemingly simple poem that so effectively conveys a universal truth. But for now, I’ll enjoy the masters.
Nothing that is can pause or stay;
The moon will wax,
The moon will wane,
The mist and cloud will turn to rain,
The rain to mist and cloud again,
Tomorrow be today.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I’m trying to accept this incontrovertible fact with more grace and compassion. It’s not easy. I recognize I’ve spent far too much time seeking to control the uncontrollable. While I recognize this truth…I don’t like it much yet.
The poem below more closely reflects a sense of despair I can relate to. How insensitive the world seems to our individual heartbreak.
Break, Break, Break
Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.
Dogs live completely in the moment. Reminding us to do the same is one of their greatest gifts. Atlas constantly grounded me in small precious moments. I vividly remember the time I took this photo because I knew even then that Atlas was teaching me about how to live. Stop and smell the grass. And so we did… more and more. Life was stressful and I was becoming increasingly aware of the fact that our time together was finite. But we had then…so I watched, and I breathed, and I marveled at how happy the simple pleasures made Atlas. He was reveling in the glorious smell and feel of grass. It was a good moment. He provided me with so many good moments.
I’m cataloging them in my mind. I can never capture them all in writing. And though they are precious to me, I doubt they’d have value to others. It’s the compilation of idiosyncrasies and shared moments that make the relationship with a loved one unique. A private club with a membership of two.
I miss so many of Atlas’s ways…daily…hourly. I find myself struggling not to compare Halley, but I miss his endearing habits. Every morning the minute Atlas heard a change in my breathing, his tail would thump loudly on the floor. It always made me smile. It was a great way to wake up. We called him “Tail Wagger” and “Thumper” among other names. I know not terribly creative, and a bit embarrassing, but many dog lovers probably relate. I know Halley is happy to see me, but she’s not as demonstrative. Also, Halley shows little interest in toys. Every once in awhile I can get her to play, but it’s just not her thing. I miss how Atlas would do his play bow and bark. Then he’d give me a look with his tongue hanging out “You game?” I think he liked playing with me because he felt he had a chance of winning- a good one.
Here are some other memories I’ve been polishing lately. I miss the way he pranced through the grass when it was time to eat: his tail straight out, his footwork like a horse performing dressage. I miss the way he pressed down on my arm with his muzzle to wake me up if he had waited long enough for breakfast or the bathroom. I miss how every morning and evening I cuddled up next to his large warm body and smelled his fur while he curled his toes, stretched his legs and sighed in contentment. I miss how he followed me up the stairs with a look like he’d won a prize. Then he’d lay down on the landing next to me while I was on the computer. I miss the sound of him lapping water.
Those moments were countless. Those moments were precious. Those moments are gone.
I am fortunate in that I truly treasured them as they happened. I wish I could find comfort in that. But I just miss them all the more because I knew their value. I do not want to live in the small moments now. They are painfully empty. My teacher is gone.
Yet another day has passed in my Life without Atlas.
I don’t care if it’s simplistic and trite, it just ran through my mind while I walked along the power line. It seems there’s a refrain I hear after almost every thought- no matter what I say, think or do…Atlas is gone. I guess I’m still trying to grasp that fundamental fact, so I have to keep repeating it.
The sun rose again,
and you are still gone.
The snow has all melted,
but you are still gone.
The flowers have returned,
yet you are still gone.
My heart remains empty,
because you are still gone.
Before Atlas died I’d suffer from recurring nightmares during times of stress: Atlas would be off leash and running away from me across busy roads. Sometimes he would be hit by a car in front of me; other times there was just the constant threat, but the stress of the inevitable event woke me up before it actually happened. Thankfully, Atlas didn’t get hit by a car in real life. One of my worst fears never happened, so I thought I’d be done with it. Unfortunately this was not the case- at least the dream isn’t as common anymore.
I’ve dreamed of Atlas many times since he’s been gone. Many have been good ones. On two occasions it was such a sensory experience I swore I really got to touch him. I woke up feeling calmer. Last night’s was not one of those, however. In some ways it is the new version of my bad dreams. Atlas is there, but far away. It’s as if he can’t hear me either, because he won’t respond when I yell “come” and something prevents me from reaching him. I wake up filled with sadness and longing. I guess it’s my mind trying to accept my new reality. But I hate it.
In another one I had about a month ago I discovered a new door in our house. I couldn’t believe I had never seen it before, so I opened it to see what was there. There was a small dark room with only two things in it: a Christmas tree and Atlas lying on the floor. He got up and greeted me when I came in, and I remember thinking, this is where you’ve been this whole time? I felt bad I had left him in such a dark place and had not found him earlier. I was also a bit upset with him that he had stayed there and not looked for me. It was a curious thing that there was a Christmas tree. My family growing up would be able to tell you how much Christmas used to mean to me. It hasn’t evoked any special feeling for a long time though. We didn’t even bother decorating this year. Why was there a tree and Atlas? Were these two things I had loved that were lost to me forever? Precious treasures of my past?
I haven’t been back to that room in my dreams. I don’t want Atlas to stay there. If I have to relegate him to some compartment in my mind, let it be somewhere with more light and beauty. Somewhere with no roads or cars. Even if I can only watch him from a distance, let him be safe and free.