Aspen the Dog

He was the best dog. Ever.

I know you’d say that about your dog, too. And it would be true as well. We dog lovers are fiercely loyal to our own. As it should be.

samoyedMy friend, owner of Topaz, a golden Lab of amazing intellect and beauty, decided that I needed my own dog–hoping, I think, that, after they sniffed their ways through the doggie version of speed dating, they’d like each other and become soul mates, if dogs aspire to such things. So, one day, he took me on a trip to my hometown to meet Aspen, although I had no clue what this adventure was about.

Aspen was standing behind the screen door when we walked up to the house. Samoyeds are always happy, their tails wag and their mouths are wide open. He was beautiful. His long, white hair around his curly tail was carefully combed and stood, just so, against his wirey body. He was smiling. (They do smile, you know.)

I knocked at the door and the owner of the Aspendog (as he came to be known) appeared a bit frazzled. She and her husband were getting a divorce and wouldn’t be able to keep him in her new apartment. How easily we abandon pets–part of our families, part of our lives–I thought. But, on the other hand, we have to deal with things in the best ways possible. In this case, the lady was looking for a good home for her dog.

I fell in love with him immediately. His smile, his coat, his demeanor. He was big–in contrast to the terrier-mix I had as a child–and was getting bigger.

It turned out that, at five months, the Aspendog was not house broken, trained or—well—anything. I have stories. Lots of them. Too many.

We worked through all that, and he did become the best friend of Topaz the Wonderdog who, in her more mature and ladylike manner, knew how to deal with his taunts, and nose pushes and licking.

Besides Topaz, Aspen loved many things including squirt cheese, cold weather and fingers. It took me some time to figure that last one out. That is, until it dawned on me that his original playmates were children who often got their fingers into very interesting things–interesting, especially if you’re a dog. Things like child smells and candy and love. That’s why he licked everything, always. Yes, it’s true.

A few years later when Topaz passed on, Aspen couldn’t say anything. He could only deal with what he experienced—life without his friend. It is much the same way we feel when a friend leaves us, except that, sometimes, we can call them on the phone and talk. Perhaps we should call.

Aspen was my dog for seven years. He would look forlorn when I left for the day, and he would love me when I came home at night. He didn’t judge. He only made me feel right.

Then, one night, he couldn’t stand up. On his face were the same fear and love that were on mine. He looked into my eyes and I looked into his. He’d become a best friend. I could not ask for more in the world, except to hope that he wasn’t leaving.

But he did.

Today, I remember him.

You can lick my fingers, buddy…

Perhaps someone you care about isn’t close by anymore. Know that they are with you. Always. Just like mom and dad. Just like Aspen and Topaz.

We really aren’t alone. Ever.

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Being a contribution

Okay. It’s confession time. Basically, I don’t like to wait. I choose next day shipping when buying from Amazon, and I wish it didn’t take so long to hard boil an egg. And, don’t get me started on how slow microwaves have become…

Well, I exaggerate, but you get the idea.

For many of us, waiting for stuff to happen can be a doldrums-like experience–like someone pressed the pause button on the DVD of your life. “If only they’d hurry up,” you might think, believing that the event (or life) you long for will bring the satisfaction that, until this point, has remained just outside your grasp.

todayRecently, my view of waiting has taken a turn for the better.

As I write this, Gerald Finzi’s “Eclogue for Piano and Strings” is playing on my iTunes. At a precise ten minutes, “Eclogue” (it means “pastoral poem”) is both haunting and bittersweet. Haunting in that there’s a yearning and tenderness in the melody and orchestration. Bittersweet because Finzi meant for it to be the slow movement of a piano concerto that he would never complete. (You can listen to the music here.)

Now, despite my jokes about being sometimes less than patient, I would never think of skipping to the end of the track just to hear the last note. I’ll bet you wouldn’t either. In music, it’s not the final note we savor (unless it’s getting through a Wagnerian opera!) it’s all the ones from beginning to the end that make up the musical story.

But in “the waiting game,” we can be so focused on what will be (the final note of music) that we miss what is. Within the waiting game is a subtle (or not-so-subtle) belief that tomorrow will be better than today. Now, that may be true. But today is the time and place to make a difference. It’s the only time and place we have any influence over.

So, how do you turn waiting into action?

Benjamin Zander, author of “The Art of Possibility” and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, has a phrase that fits for me. He encourages people to be a contribution. Not to “make” a contribution, but to “be” one. Putting this idea into practice is as simple as throwing yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why. And, by being a contribution, you are one—not tomorrow, not when the waiting ends, but during the waiting! Now.

The difference between “being” a contribution and “making” one may seem slight. For me, it’s recognizing that our very life is a contribution should we choose to throw ourselves in. In that life of being a contribution, there is no waiting game to be played.

There’s another post about Benjamin Zander’s book here.