I’ve been watching the Westminster Kennel Club dog show this week. And thinking about the dogs in my own life.
So many of them — recently Samson and Auggie, and the childhood dog Snowball. And the 1990s dogs Elmo the Bassett Hound, Sam, Goldie, and Phantom, the latter two West Highland White Terriers. And Delilah.
An almost-exhaustive compendium of
photos of places I’ve lived over my 56 years
I am missing photos of the places I lived during the summers of 1981 and 1982, as I worked in Missouri between college semesters. Summer 1981 was at Southwest Baptist University in the Admissions office; Summer 1982, in Tarkio as a summer missionary.
1986. I am missing a photo of the house I rented in Bolivar while I was Director of Admissions at Southwest Baptist University. The building has subsequently been demolished.
1999. I am missing a photo of my townhouse in Owensboro, Kentucky, where I taught college for one year.
And then I bought my own dream home in November 2008. And I’ve been here ever since, with one dog and then another. I like it here.
From the south.
The new, 25 Lawn Place, on January 27.
Tuesday evening, on the porch swing.
25 Lawn Place, dressed for the season.
Empty porches on Lawn Place.
Here’s a bonus: my elementary school in Lee’s Summit.
Auggie, according to our vet, is “an extraordinary dog.”
Dr. Bret mentioned Auggie’s beautiful hips (which is true), his easy and happy temperament, his peacefulness (at least at the vet), his perfect-sounding heart.
Auggie does have some mild allergies that manifest themselves as a bit of skin trouble, but it’s nothing we can’t manage. He weighs 14 pounds.
Auggie took his rabies vaccine and his blood draw without a whimper.
And Auggie still does not like concrete or tile floors. He just wanted to be on my lap, which was endearing in and of itself anyway.
Dr. Bret looked me in the eye and told me how blessed I was to have found this guy. And then he gave me a hug.
Of course part of the hug was that I was in tears just passing the room where I held Samson as he died just over a year ago. Just seeing that room sent me into a mess of emotion.
I’ve told people so many times that grieving is like dropping a rock in a still pond. Big initial splash. Concentric circles that follow the Fibonacci series, each circle of the wake becoming less and less pronounced, but existing and stretching into infinity.
The grief occasionally rises up again, and all we can do is ride the wave.
Auggie is fearless in the snow. He jumps and bounds and frolics, and comes back inside and licks his paws. Of course, he also has longer legs than Samson.
Samson would quiver and shake and refuse to go outdoors until I had cleared him a spot on the lawn. He would then sniff and wait and circle and cogitate, all before finally doing his business.
But Auggie is fine with thunder, although he’s skittish around unexpected loud sounds. Sam would sleeps through loud sounds (think a book falling on the floor), but be terrified of thunder that was five counties away.
Dogs are strange and wondrous creatures. And when they curl up on your lap or beside you after a long day of work, they are also the most wonderful organic systems around.
The year 2015 is drawing to a close, and I find myself taking stock of the preceding 12 months.
This has been a momentous year in our world. I lament the hate and xenophobia that spews forth from many of our elected leaders. I grieve for those who flee their own countries, and who live in fear in their own cities, even as I urge local officials and national elected officers to take positive, love-filled actions.
Closer to home, I rejoice in little acts, such as a colleague organizing a concert for peace last week, and the various collections of food and household needs that allow me to share the riches of everyday life.
The year 2015 is my first in three years with no broken bones, so I rejoice further!
I think of family. Both nieces reached milestones this year, with Kristen graduating from college with her nursing degree, and Anna graduating high school and starting college here in Saint Louis. My father turned 80 this year; we shared a quiet family celebration, as were his wishes. Sisters Karen and Beth and their families continue to live in the Kansas City area.
I think of creativity. Jimmy Stevens premiered my setting of “Storypeople Songs” in April. I received a couple of awards for music directing in musical theatre, with nods from both the Saint Louis Theatre Critics Circle and the Riverfront Times. My students just go from strength to strength, and I delight in their successes too. Various writing projects and composing projects are coming to conclusion, with hopes that the next year may see some publications too.
I think of school. Now in my eighth year at Webster University, I continue to love and cherish the rigors, challenges, and opportunities of the day job. I made full Professor this year, starting Fall 2015 at the new rank. We hired a new colleague this year and sent a 42-year member of the faculty off into retirement. We have two more searches underway right now. Our students continue to amaze me. My own students continue to provide me both joy and challenge, and I grow through my interaction with them. We added two new performance programs this semester, with another on the way. Our holiday concert is available to view!
I think of travel. This summer was filled with away days. A friend and I vacationed in three European capitals (Amsterdam, where we stayed five nights in a canal boat!; Berlin; and Prague, in an apartment overlooking the river and the Charles Bridge). That trip included a day visit to Antwerp, Belgium; one to Potsdam, Germany, where I visited the site of the Potsdam Conference; and a sober away-day in Terezin to see the Czech concentration camp. I returned to Europe a few weeks later to engage in some Webster University work in two more capitals (Athens and Vienna), but not before having a couple of idyllic vacation days on the island of Hydra, of the Greek Peloponnesian coast. Meanwhile, this year included a couple of trips to New York City, to Chicago, and long weekends in Las Vegas and Helena (both of the latter trips to see students in shows). I also hit Interlochen, Michigan; Bourbonnais, Illinois; the Lake of the Ozarks; and Lincoln, Nebraska — all for various things related to work and service.
I think of companions. A few days after returning from Europe in September, I made a difficult decision about my beloved Samson. His daily lot was confusion and distress as he suffered from canine dementia. He died in my arms on September 28, slipping away peacefully as I sang to him and thanked him for being my loyal friend. We’d been together for nearly seven years; he had been with me in this home for all but one month that I’ve lived at 25 Lawn Place. After publicly proclaiming I’d wait a while until another furry friend shows up, I adopted Augustus Rex, a miniature Schnauzer, on October 31. This little four-year-old rescue dog has brought new joy and very different energy to my life, and I think I to his. He’s certainly getting me outdoors more often!
I think of my home. This little house in the City of Saint Louis continues to be a delightful place to live and love and be peaceful. I undertook some remodeling this year, and now have a home office and study where I can relax and feel at home. The former home library is now the guest room, and I have a proper wood-floor, leather wing chair, memento-covered-wall home office. Conversely, I am also reminded of the darker side of urban living, as a recent nighttime burglary attests. Thanks be to god for alarm systems and God-winks that caused me to have my housekeys upstairs with me that night!
December is a full month of music, but every month is! This month alone includes concerts at the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and at Webster. A performance of The Nutcracker by the Missouri Ballet. A holiday cabaret performed by colleagues at the Tavern of Fine Arts. Lessons & Carols at a local Episcopal church. (A screening of Star Wars four days before Christmas.) A jazz event at school, and a student composer’s final concert as well. And then Christmas Eve at my home parish of Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, where I will conduct my own setting of “The Oxen” with the choir. I am rich in music and art!
As I write today, Morton Lauridsen’s setting of “O magnum mysterium” is on the stereo. Oh, how great this mystery, that animals should witness this virgin birth as Christ comes to earth. This mystery continues to confound and thrill. And our world needs now, as much as ever, the light of Christ — of true Christ-like teaching of love, acceptance, forgiveness, charity — to break through the gloom, in glorious brightness of day, in truth and passionate commitment to caring for others . . . to healing our world . . . to loving our neighbors as ourselves.
May Christmastide 2015 lead us into a glorious new year.
Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.
I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker ‘s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.
The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ‘I know why.’
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.
He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good Life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?’ The Six-year-old continued, ‘Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.’
Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:
When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy.
Stretch before rising.
Run, romp, and play daily.
Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
Never pretend to be something you’re not.
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.