Joey passed away on Saturday last, March 8, 2014. My only relief from grief and missing him seems to come during the relative oblivion of sleep, but as soon as I begin to awake, Joey is my first thought. He had the most exuberant way of greeting the day. Today I was particularly thinking about that – how Joey greeted the day. It would start as soon as I stirred; he’d jump onto the bed (all 85+ pounds of him) and put his nose into my face to see how far along I was into actually getting up. I usually didn't fall back to sleep after that, although the code words could be used: “Joey, you gotta stay,” and then he would settle down (usually) to wait, oftentimes trapping me beneath the covers with his weight and bulk, big lovely head resting on me somewhere cutting off my circulation and making a limb fall asleep.
When finally I got up, he was so excited he would jump (hence the name, ”Joey,” as in baby kangaroo) all the way to the door with a smile for me and those bright eyes looking at me to make double triple super sure he was reading the situation correctly, tongue hanging out and tail wagging, literally all four paws leaving the ground. I always enjoyed the infectious exuberance of this daily occurrence, while being careful that we didn't crack foreheads as his was harder than mine for sure.
So this morning I was dreading getting out of bed and having to face the deafening silence and absence of all that “routine” on this sixth day of his passing, and I began to think about what exactly might have been going through Joey’s mind every single morning that so enthused him, and more importantly, could I muster the same seeming enthusiasm, not just under the circumstances, but in spite of them? I cannot help feeling that all this will be so much worse if I fail to honor and respect and learn this lesson that Joey (and perhaps all dogs) seem to know intrinsically.
I've heard or read that dogs live in the moment, but in a way I think they live in the very short-term. They quickly lose any remembrance of past wrongs – those done by them and those done to them. And if they’re lucky enough to have an (good) owner, they anticipate certain events, some brought on by habit, such as meal time, and some brought on by obvious clues, like when I would pick up Joey’s leash and the car keys, and say the phrase, “Road trip!” Oh my goodness, as he got older, I had to be careful he was not on the kitchen floor, but rather on carpeting when I said those words so that he wouldn't slip and hurt himself in his unbridled joy.
So this morning, as I was struggling to come up with a good reason to get out of bed and begin another day filled with the effort of coming to terms with the pain and grief of missing Joey, and the effort of trying to fight off the guilt of, “could I have done something better/different/more on that last horrible day?,” I started really trying to figure out Joey’s approach, and what he so obviously knew about the proper way to start any day. I mean, he couldn't have been feeling perfectly well every single day between the epilepsy and the aging, and yet that never seemed to dampen his taste for the potential of the day. I enjoyed him enjoying what became such a ritual for us. And I was aware of his many gifts like this to me, but now I have to do it without him, and I’m not exactly sure how to transfer whatever his “it” to become my “it”.
Generally, I sleep well and have regular hours, so I get up rested; I am not one of those chronic sleep-deprived people you hear so much about these days. But I get up because I have these mundane things to do before I can do what I want, what my soul wants or commands me to do, things like balancing my checkbook, paying a bill, getting something ready to go in the mail, doing inventory so I can start my taxes, picking up something at the grocery store. And I probably got up many days these past 11 years because Joey needed to go out, be fed, be given his epilepsy medicine on time. But even though Joey had these basic needs, every morning, he seemed to have other more important reasons for getting up that he expressed with a joyful attitude.
So for now, what I’m going to try to ask and maybe someday be able to answer is, “What makes me feel like Joey did when he got up?” It for sure is not the prospect of balancing a checkbook. What is my equivalent to his apparent joy in checking out the new smells in the yard for the 2000th or 4000th day? What wonderful thing was he so happy about Every. Single. Morning? I mean, Joey always seemed beyond happy and downright exuberant. Do I have something like that in my life? What on earth could be so compelling? Every. Single. Morning.
I’m afraid I don’t know exactly, but I do know a few of the things it is not, and so I start the process there. I might try changing my morning routine to something else – anything else. Perhaps it’s as simple and unthoughtout as getting up and walking around the yard to see what cool new things happened overnight while I was sleeping. No planning; just observation. All I can do is promise to start there. Perhaps then I can start answering the larger question of what exactly makes me feel that amped up level of joy and exuberance as Joey so obviously did.
Making stuff for sure has from time to time made me feel peace and well-being and nirvana – not making the stuff I sometimes feel like I have to make, but rather making the stuff I cannot help making. That inexplicable out-of-body experience that happens as I am creating where I am nothing more than a vessel through which I can feel an energy or force or being much greater than myself charging my every move, my every creative decision, when I know without a doubt that I am doing that for which I am on the planet is a feeling that seems as intense as Joey’s exuberance. What if I could foster an attitude that allowed that in every day; more than once in a while? Would I feel like Joey? He did “it” every single day (the ol’ Nike tagline, best tagline of the 20th century, “Just Do It”), with no worries about something turning out or not, or worry that time would be wasted on an idea that could possibly go no where, no planning, no concern about all the other pesky stuff that takes time away from what is important. So an adjustment or realignment is in order that would foster a more focused faithfulness to the path given, and in honor of Joey's lifelong example.
Joey was unafraid, unapologetic, did what he felt needed doing without delay as it presented itself, sometimes learned from a mistake, but did not let a bad experience quash any future experimentation. But foreseeing potential for trouble was not his forte. He was not conservative but rather lived quite flat out, and while perhaps part of my service to him was making sure he didn't get in too far over his head, his service to me is ongoing -- making me see that I have some work to do in diving into life more deeply, where the joy, exuberance, and spectacular potential is a natural side effect to wake up every morning with such excitement that all 4 paws leave the ground for a time.