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What Would You Do?

Smiling Chester, 2017

What do you do?

What do you do when the compressor goes out on your air conditioner on a holiday weekend and you have to face the fact that your 16-year-old dog is in pain?

Here’s where I go, and maybe you do too. In the heat of a humid summer day, you improvise with a portable A.C. unit, block doorways and windows with blankets and velvet curtains and try to convince your old dog that all he needs is in that room. But he doesn’t listen. He wants to go to the hottest rooms in the house if only to be by you, licking your hand, panting and pacing.

What do you do? You make decisions because you can’t deny any longer that your dog is in pain. You can’t wait for the food to run out or the CBD spray to be a miracle like you thought it might happen. And you begin to face a reality that you aren’t quite ready to face.

So, you pull out the picture, the one of a cute little fur ball you aptly named Chester and remember that he’s been part of the definition of our family of nineteen years.

What do you do? You cope with the heat. You talk to your husband. “I think it’s time to call the vet.” But that won’t happen today, its Sunday.

You talk to your husband about options for cooling the house when you are just getting ready to hire someone for a major revamp of your H.V.A.C.

You lay on the floor with your dog, tracing your hand gently along his boney back. Your fingers find the hardened tumor on his belly, by his pee pee where the evidence is clear, bleeding. You knead the skin around the tumor and he closes his eyes, and lays his head down as if you have found a sweet spot for him.

What do you do in the face of 90 degree weather, the skies exhausted after fireworks, but filled with more than bird songs. Military grade helicopters whump, whump, whump above your house and you long for those sweet nights when you were a child, your hair matted to your head as you fell asleep to the sounds of a riverboat calliope mingling with the smell of catfish wafting through the screened bedroom window.

Maybe you can tolerate a warm day because the breeze is all that more delicious beyond the prison of an air-conditioned house. Maybe aromas alight from the walls of your old house, emote memories from another time. Is that the hint of magnolia mingling with the odor of bacon you fried for BLTs?

You make a to-do list for Monday morning.

H.V.A.C. guy to talk new compressor.

The Vet.

Still, what do you do with the things you carry inside yourself? You let go easier these days in an age when funerals become part of the fabric of life. You see the progression amounting to a kind of understanding that we are not just the sum of our parts here on earth.

You hone in on what you can do, where you can bring ease and comfort. You spray the deck with cold water so your old dog, the pads of his paws nearly gone, are cooled rather than hot, him prancing like he’s stepping on burning coals.

You define what is important and ask with each thought, each action, each turn of events: what’s my part in this and how important is it.

You think about the Goddess Cat who visited you just weeks ago, the one who climbed into your lap and licked your face.

You look at all the tiny, dancing light that hits your ceiling when the sun comes through your window, and you are happy you didn’t take down the little mirror ball ornaments at Christmas, only to discover again and again that you can smile remembering times of celebration.

But most of all you remember that Chester has meant only love, love, love to you.

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As Don sits on our back deck in Montana with our aging dog, a tear forms in my eye.... so poignant, so inevitable, your story touches a chord with any of us who have discovered the exquisite, heart wrenching joy of loving a canine companion.

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