Sometimes, big things in our lives come in threes. That was my experience in the last couple of weeks. First there was the discovery of the tumour in my stomach that has to be removed. Then it was my daughter Kimberly’s wedding last weekend – a perfect day and a beautiful bride. But then on the phone came the voice of Kathy, my oldest daughter who lives near North Bay, telling me that their beloved dog, Wookiee, had just been run over by a school bus and killed. Something churns inside you when you hear one of your kids express deep grief, coupled with tears, in moments like that.
I got to meet Wookiee when she was but a pup, as you’ll see in the video below, which I made for Kathy a few days later. But her real effect was on Kathy and her husband Jeff. Unknown to them at the time, it wouldn’t be too long following their acquisition of Wookiee that their first child, Wesley, was to come along. In his moving farewell to Wookiee on Facebook, Jeff reflected that this special puppy was their first big responsibility they took on as a couple and prepared them for Wesley’s arrival.
Wookiee made me think yesterday of the old Scottish proverb, penned near where I used to live in Edinburgh as a kid, that stated, “To call him a dog hardly seems to do him justice, though inasmuch as he had four legs, a tail, and barked, I admit he was. But to those of us who knew him well, he was a perfect gentleman.” Wookiee was a female, but she was a gentle gift of life. I will always remember her that way.
Wookiee walked Wesley (five years old) to the edge of the driveway, as she did every morning, waiting for the school bus. For some reason, when it arrived she bolted in front of it and was run over. Wesley sat in the back seat with his dog as Jeff rushed her to the vet. She died enroute and Wesley’s little heart was broken. Thornton Wilder remembered a similar experience as a child and lamented, “Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less of love than the child that lost a dog yesterday.” The moment life flickered out of Wookiee’s eyes, Wesley suddenly knew what it was like to grieve in love. He will never quite be the same. Following this deep loss, it will be harder for life to throw something difficult at him that he won’t be able to bear. Almost all of us know this feeling exactly. It is how many of us were first baptized into humanity.
Wookiee was a happy creature that expressed more by wagging her tail than a person could say in hours. She was a gentle reminder that a good dog is one of the few things we will ever encounter that loves its owner more than itself. This is how we were supposed to be as humans but oftentimes didn’t get around to. It’s why Plato could exclaim that, “a dog has the soul of a philosopher.” By living her life this way, Wookiee reminded us, as all of our great pets do, that they bring out the best in us.
Kathy and Jeff buried Wookiee back by her favourite spot on the farm. But that’s not where she is – not by a long shot. If you could have heard my daughter’s voice over the phone as I did – the brokenness, the grief, the loss, the warmth – you would realize that Wookiee was buried in that one place that mattered more to her than anything else – in the hearts of the family she loved. She would be the happiest there, and is. She was more human than many of us, more of a divine messenger than many angels, more of a protector than most babysitters, and more of an abiding memory than a favourite picture. She enriched my daughter and her family’s life beyond measure. She was their friend, their defender – faithful and true. We all owe it to her to be worthy ourselves of such devotion.