Before I was married, my dog Hamachi (a German Shepherd mix) slept beside me in bed, her head on the “his” pillow, her limbs intertwined with mine. When I dated a man whose Australian Shepherd also believed she belonged on the bed, I expanded to a king size bed to accommodate the four of us. Years later, my husband voted my fuzzy bunk mate off the island of our bed.
When my son was born, we switched all the rooms around so that our bedroom would be a few paces away from his. This required our enormous bed to be squeezed into a tiny room, leaving only a small margin of walking space where Hamachi and her big brother Henry would compress their devotion into a tidy fit at the foot of the bed each night.
This past September, when I became a solo sleeper again, there was nothing I could do to convince Hamachi to return to the bed. In fact, she steered clear of the bedroom altogether at night. Instead, she would sleep directly across the threshold of the front door. Until tonight, when I was surprised to find a barely walkable pass to my bed. There were my two, old dogs woven once again into the sweetness of evening.
With her return, I understood, finally: Hamachi had been keeping vigil for my husband. I knew he was not coming back, but it never occurred to me that my dog might believe otherwise. It took her nine months to give up the hope that she might greet him as he came through that front door. As if, for her, he had gone out for a pack of cigarettes on September 1 and might be back with them any moment.
This brought to mind a story I heard as a child about Hachiko, a dog in Japan who would greet his master at the train station every day after work. When the master died at work one day and did not step off of the train platform that afternoon, the dog returned looking for him every day, for the rest of his life–another nine years.
There is something about the faith of dogs, their optimism–no, their absolute certainty–that love is coming for them if only they do their part, that moves me to my core. Hamachi and Hachiko, dedicated to causes around which they organize their lives and behaviors day after day after day, without ever wavering to consider what-if, or why-should-I.
Granted, the dog brain and the human brain are different. We each understand and express things in our own way, making us vulnerable to cross-species misunderstanding. But because I am prone to teasing out the figurative opportunities of any literal event, I wonder: what would I be willing to dedicate myself to so completely? What would I show up for with absolute conviction and love for months and years, without any promise of ever getting anything in return?
And as I sit with these questions, it dawns on me. I understand the reason why a story about a dog’s vigil can reliably reduce me to tears is this: it symbolizes for me my relationship with writing. The love that brings me to the page has no answer. It has no master. It is a yearning into the abyss from which no solution appears. The writing is in itself the end. The yearning through words is enough. For the rest of my life, I am likely to be typing away at this threshold through which there are so many entrances and exits, yet no clear story line. Only my faith, my love and my words.
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Do you have stories, symbols, or images that represent the writing life for you? If you do, I’d love to hear about it here. And if you don’t think you do, I invite you to pay attention to what moves you from day to day. Chances are good that you’ll start to tease out a story line or two that illuminate some truth about your life as a writer.