My 40s kinda sucked. I did get to watch my kids get ten years older, and I had some success transitioning into a new career as a professor and author, but – overall – the decade was defined by the debilitating deaths of the two people in the world who knew me best and loved me regardless.
My mother and my friend Mike O’Shea had, respectively, been part of my life since before I was born. While the former is a “duh,” the latter is due to our pregnant mothers being friendly neighbors who delivered baby boys the same summer week of 1968.
The most vivid memories of my childhood were Mike’s near-constant company and my mother’s regular claims that she was going to freeze me so that I’d stay her little boy forever.
In meaningful ways, I remained that little boy into adulthood – a joyous soul cloaked in the comfort of two special, lifelong companions – until they both died a few years apart and I fell apart shortly after.
The realities of said collapse are ones I’d rather not share, but one of the remedies (actually, two to be precise) came in the form of a couple of rescue dogs who have done as much for me as we have for them.
First came Ally, and then came Charlie. She’s lean and fierce; he’s big and fluffy. I’m unsure of reincarnation, but even if I was convinced of it, I’d never truly think that my mother and my oldest friend would come back as dogs, but – in my imagination – I like to think of Ally as my mom and Charlie as Mike. I especially do this with regard to the manner in which they assuage my grief.
It’s as if our dogs not only know that I am hurting but the reasons for my ache. They conjure joy from me all day long and sleep by my side at night. They remain in my thoughts and mitigate those moments when grief comes to call.
These two dogs – and dogs, in general, I’m convinced – have far more emotional intuition than recognized. They are immensely empathetic animals with a massive propensity for love. Rescue dogs should be mandatory birthday gifts for everyone on their 40th birthday as they alleviate the suffering that inevitably comes in the middle passage.
Oh, and we do a solid by them as well. Win. Win.