The choices we make in life that really count are rarely the big ones that seem like they will define our existence, but the small ones that actually do.
Fifteen years ago, we adopted a second dog to share our life with Harry. We went over to the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago and Chris guided us past the puppies and the happy-to-see-you dogs, to a cage with no obvious occupant. Huddled at the rear of the cage, with her back to the world, was a little black dog with no interest or hope. She was to be euthanized tomorrow.
Chris turned to me and nodded. “No one’s going to adopt her, if we don’t.”
We brought her home and Chris named her Maya. Maya snapped at Harry for three days whenever he came close to us or her, no matter how much he tried to get her to play, no matter how gentle his approach. Given that he’d already been master of the house for over two years, this seemed a little short-sighted on her part.
It was, we discovered, also completely out of character.
On the third night, as we were getting into bed, we suddenly heard a different sound. Glancing over the foot of the bed, we found the two of them playing, dancing on their hind legs to silent music, three days of Harry’s charm and persistence being enough to sweep any girl off her feet.
From that moment, until Harry died three years ago today, she was Robin to his Batman. Bonnie to his Clyde. When we went out of town, which was a lot, the two of them went to stay with Valerie at her pet service. He took care of her and she loved him. A perfect match.
Five thousand, five hundred and five days later we said goodbye to a soul that is as kind and loving and loyal and open hearted as any I have ever met. For the first eight years of our guardianship of her, she spent long days at the office, as excited each morning and night to jump in the car as if this was her first ride.
For the first fourteen years, she rounded us up whenever we came in any door, careful to make sure everyone was safely inside before she settled back on her bed. And her intense love of food stayed with her til the very, very end. She ate every meal as thought it were her last. Including her last.
She was happiest being in the background, partially because she was resolutely independent. And partially because this allowed her to quietly wander off to satisfy her curious love of eating paper and fabric. If we failed in any way, it was in not insisting that her digestive system be examined posthumously to understand how a 35 pound dog could consume 6 linear feet of curtain fabric and pass it two days later without distress.
But of all the things I loved her for, I am most grateful for her grace and willingness to accept Maud, and Fred and Summer as we added them to the family that for eight years had been her and Harry’s private domain. It would have been easy for her to decide she’d waited for our undivided attention for eight long years and to reject the interlopers out of hand. But each year as we added another, she looked at us quizzically for a few minutes then went about showing them the ropes.
It was not until the last nine months or so that Maya needed or wanted any special attention. But as Altzheimer’s took hold of her neurological functions, and old age took hold of her leg muscles, we spent more and more time helping her around the house. Over the last few months she has needed full time hospice care, and we have been grateful that when we have had to travel, we had Melanie Michon to help us give it to her.
For though held in the body of a dog, this was a life force of rare certainty and commitment. An energy source of relentless determination to live life on her terms, and to bring it to an end on a timetable of her making.
And when she told us she was ready, we were lucky to have a vet as sensitive as Jerry Scheck to come to our house and help us heed her wishes, gently and peacefully, surrounded by her family and in my arms.
Listening, really listening, is borderline impossible in this whirlwind world, the sound of life rushing by like the wind in the trees on a storm-filled day. And there have been many days over the last few weeks when we thought it was time. But each time we pulled back, because though her body was frail, her will and determination to be here were not.
And in those final weeks Maya taught me that listening to someone means filtering that noise to hear what they want, not what you think they should want.
It was the last of her many lessons.
That your life can change in an instant.
That patience will overcome fear.
That life is a joy-ride every day.
That the world is as big as you make it.
And she taught me that love comes in small, furry black packages.
Today, the world is a little darker than it was yesterday.
And heaven is a little lighter.
Our dear sweet Maya Paya.
We thank you for every thing, from the bottom of our broken hearts.
And we know that once again you are dancing with Harry.