Grieving and being sad do not come naturally to me. I have been cursed with a sunny disposition that has, at times, been grating to some of my less glass-half-full friends (read: all of them). This is not to say that I don’t feel the pain of loss. Quite the opposite, I think I feel it more acutely than most, and my internal defense mechanism is to try to find some happiness, some reason, some hope, in situations where none is easily found.
And this is where I find myself now. On Monday, June 14th, a day that will be forever scorched on my heart, I lost my best friend. It was a tragic accident, made all the more tragic by its ability to be avoided. The ‘how’ doesn’t matter though; what’s done is done and he is gone. And I have read one too many Stephen King books to think that anything good can ever come from trying to undo what is done. The ‘why’ doesn’t matter, either. Even if there was a good reason for this to happen, knowing it is not going to break my heart one ounce less.
And so I search. Not for meaning, but for lessons. What has Leon taught me? What can I learn from his life to apply to my own? What is Leon’s legacy?
I got Leon for jr’s 8th birthday. He was a fat ball of fur who had a way of trying to hang himself every time I put a leash on him. He would leap off the back of the couch, tangle himself up in the coffee table legs, or trip himself and anyone who was trying to walk him. Regardless of our efforts to make him a better walker, he pulled, tugged and twisted until he couldn’t breathe. He loved to SEE his leash, he would take it in his mouth and walk himself, he just didn’t want it on his neck.
Leon’s Legacy Number One: Do not hold on so tight to those who love you most. It’s okay to let go of the leash. They will be walking right beside you. And if they wander off for a minute, say to sniff a telephone pole or piss on a mailbox, just whistle, and they will come bounding back to you with a smile that will melt your cold, black heart.
I worked for a Catholic university when Leon was a puppy. I couldn’t bear to leave him home alone all day, so I took him to work with me. The students were happy to puppy-sit for me, and many of them took Leon up to the convent on campus to visit with the nuns who were in the nursing home there. He was a canine sensation. The nuns couldn’t get enough of him. God forbid if there was a day that Leon wasn’t there. I would get a call from the convent, asking if he was coming in. His particular brand of love was balm on the souls of the elderly women there, and something as simple as a puppy kiss could brighten their day.
Leon’s Legacy Number Two: Never, ever underestimate the power of a small kindness. It takes less than a minute of your time to make a huge impact on someone’s life. Also, nuns are a sucker for a cute puppy.
Just like I wasn’t always the world’s best mother, I wasn’t always the world’s best dog owner. Sometimes I would get angry, sometimes I would forget to feed him, sometimes I would stay out too late. Sometimes I wanted to watch TV instead of play with him. Never once did Leon withhold his love from me. His power of forgiveness was practically jesus-like.
Leon’s Legacy Number Three: To err is human, to forgive, canine. We can learn a lot from our four-legged friends in this regard. When you have that much love, what can possibly break it apart for good? Nothing. There is no reason on earth to harbor hate and ill-will against those you love, who love you. Get over it already, and c’mere and give me a kiss. Leon didn’t care that I wasn’t perfect. He loved me no matter what. The way love is supposed to be.
Leon got fixed when he was eleven weeks old. I am sure he had no memory of his life with balls. This, however, did not stop him from acting like he was swinging a pair of big ol’ brass ones. 24 pounders. He didn’t care if you were a big dog, a horse, a ninja, a wolf, a werewolf, a wolverine, a semi-truck, or a great white shark, he was coming at you. Of course, when he got to you, all he was going to do was jump on you and lick you to death, but you didn’t know that, did you? He was 18 pounds of bravery, and he wasn’t scared of shit.
Leon’s Legacy Number Four: You don’t need to have balls to have balls. Courage comes in all shapes and sizes. There is no doubt in my mind Leon would have gone down swinging for me had I ever needed him to. Paws swinging and balls flapping. Because fear is for people that acknowledge that they have no balls.
Speaking of balls. Leon, since he chose to never acknowledge he had no testes, marked everything that stood still long enough. The dog pissed on every.blessed.thing he came across. Bush? Pee on it. Stop sign? Pee on it. Couch? Piss all over that thing. Ficus tree? Leg up, bombs away. Camp chair? Target practice. Sleeping baby? Well, who told you to put the baby on the floor, anyway? He derived great and sundry pleasure from exploring new landscapes and pissing on everything in his kingdom.
Leon’s Legacy Number Five: If it makes you happy, fucking go for it. Is there a reason Leon peed on everything? Who the fuck knows. Did it make him happy? Like a pig in shit. That’s all that mattered. Piss on it. Piss on all of it. Life is short, so what’s a little piss, anyway?
And finally, the thing I will remember most about my best friend. The dog was happy about everything. EVERYTHING. Leon, want to go to bed? OH BOY HOWDY DO I! YOU BETCHA. BED BED BED! Leon, want to go for a car ride? A CAR RIDE! OH, MAN! LUCKY DAY! I LOVE A CAR RIDE! Leon, want to get your nails trimmed? HELL YA. I LIVE FOR THAT SHIT! LET’S TRIM SOME NAILS! You get the point.
There is joy to be found in everything. Being alive is a reason to be happy. Your day could be shit, you could be broke, broken hearted, have shingles, whatever. Whatever crap happens to us all every day in the course of being alive. We are still ALIVE. And that, my friends, is all the reason you need to wiggle your ass, lick someone’s face, and let someone know you care.
I will never, ever forget my Leon. He has touched not just my life, but jr, my family, my friends, and everyone who knew him. His legacy is one of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and yes, piss. He taught me so much, and I am a better person for having known him. Also, I feel that since I did him the gross injustice of letting him pass on to the big dog park in the sky wearing a PIRATE COLLAR, the least I can do is publically celebrate the five and a half years he spent as a glorious gift in our lives.
Safe travels, my little furry friend. I love you more than you will ever know.