Further and Close

The Potomac River breaching the park to the bench.

It starts just below my breastbone. It’s very localized, in my chest. It’s a time when I recognize my heart is a muscle. It tightens.

Heat radiates from that beating muscle down toward my tensing stomach. And I feel my throat close a bit. My nose begins to swell and my eyes itch. Almost itch.

I fight back with a deep breath and it all subsides, just before it spills over into tears.

It happens again and again today. From the first reminder on a screen in my hand, through interviews on news shows and sprinkled liberally in football coverage.

Over and over I push it aside. I struggle through. I feel the hurt. Of watching the towers fall again and again. Seeing the smoke from the pentagon over and over. Listening to the reading of the names. Names of those lost, the innocent and the brave. Even after fifteen years, it still cuts. It still shocks. It still hurts.

In remembrance of all that was lost that day. And our search for peace.

 

Good Girl

Bretange, 9/11 rescue dog. From the book "Retrieved" by photographer Charlotte Dumas.
Betrange a 9/11 rescue dog. From “Retrieved” by photographer Charlotte Dumas.

Have you ever loved a dog?

If you haven’t I don’t know that I can help you understand it. There are only about a million and sixty-seven books about dogs people have loved. There’s Sounder, Old Yeller, Marley & Me, Good Dog Carl, and if you read The Art of Racing in the Rain and are not in a pile of rain of your own making, let me know.

I loved My Life In Dog Years and the science-y Inside of a Dog and the (controversial) zen of training by the Monks of New Skete,  How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend. Also movies. Mostly made out of books. Some, like All Dogs Go to Heaven just say it all.

A list of books and movies, though, doesn’t tell you about loving a dog. The thing about loving a dog is that it is always 100% mutual. So maybe it’s not so much about loving a dog as being loved by a dog.

I didn’t grow up with a dog in my house, but we had a dog. My grandmother had a dog and he was ours. His name was Napoleon. My uncle, who was a jerk, named him. We called this pup, Nappy. He was my first dog. He would give you his paw. He was very smart and never stepped into the house from the kitchen. He would go out back, but never step in. I know this because we tried to get him into the dining room. Wasn’t happening. I think it hurt his feelings that he couldn’t accommodate our wishes.

Nappy was my first, but not my last. I’ve known many dogs. Dogs of friends, like Max a significant German Shepard who would kill a dog walking on his sidewalk but would lie down next to the couch waiting for my fingers to stroke the spot between his large and alert ears and was afraid of the kitten who moved into the house. Working dogs, like crazy yellow lab Charlie who’d run across the parking lot at the unnamed secure location I worked to flop at my feet and splay for a belly scratch.

Three sweet pups have been a part of my family. Each of these roommates have been very different, but all are most dear and have loved me more than I deserve. Way more than I deserve. Even this current one, whose huge head is at this exact very moment draped on my lap and topped by my laptop, and who has been known to send me to the hospital. Twice. So far. But he’s a good boy. Who’s a good boy? Yes, he is.

So, I am a sucker for dogs, for dogs who love you. For dogs who look at you with the soul of god (you do realize that god is dog spelled backwards, don’t you?). Not really piercing you because it doesn’t hurt, but with a look that lays your own soul bare in a way that exposes you without shame and with an embrace. So when I heard, I was so sad.

Bretagne died today. She is a dog that I have never met but who is in a book I have, a picture book of the search and rescue dogs who were tasked to find survivors on 9/11. She worked for FEMA.

In September 2001, amid the twisted pile of steel beams, concrete and ash where the World Trade Center once stood, 300 or so search dogs worked long hours and used their powerful noses to try to find survivors.

On Monday afternoon, the last of those search dogs died at age 16 with her longtime handler and best friend by her side. —more

And when I read that, I cried. Not because it was cruel, but because she was a good girl. Yes. She was.