The dog I love most in the world just turned seven. Lazarus is an aptly-named rescue: seventy-seven pounds of energy and affection, dignified except when he’s being silly. He is my brother’s housemate. (Or at least that’s how I assume he regards himself, not feeling owned by anyone.) I see him often, but not often enough, and cherish every day I get to spend in his extravagant company.
We don’t know the exact date of Laz’s birth; he was rescued as a three-month-old, born “sometime in July.” But it’s nice to be able to celebrate such things, so Stephen chose a date of significance: July 6. That’s the day in 2007 that our mom was diagnosed with the cancer that killed her swiftly; it’s also the day in 2012 that we lost our dear cousin Susan to the cancer she’d fought for years. It also happens to be the day before my own birthday. Stephen picked this terrible date to help redeem it, just as I picked the eleventh anniversary of our mom’s death—September 17—for my book’s publication in 2018. (That date had been a bit pre-redeemed already; Mom died on the day my goddaughter turned six. When Bizzy’s mom worried her daughter would someday feel bad about that, I said “You just tell her that God wanted it never to be a completely sad day for me, so made it her birthday first.”)
This year, we spent our birthday week in Maine, where Laz provided a “finding God” experience that I am continuing to unpack.
Being seven makes Laz now a firmly middle-aged dog, as I have been for some time a firmly middle-aged woman. We’re both showing our gray, feeling a little creaky in the joints, and excessively fond of couch naps. We also both like long walks, so last Saturday we took Laz to Porter Preserve, part of the Boothbay Region Land Trust.
Setting off down a trail into the woods, I brought up the rear, picking my way cautiously, using a hiking pole for balance. Laz, on the other hand, strained at his leash, whistling like a teakettle with frenzied impatience. So much to see! So much to smell! Hurry up, people!
The preserve had only a few cars in the parking lot, and no one in sight or earshot. The posted rules said that dogs must be “leashed or under voice control.” Laz is a good boy. Stephen unclipped the leash.
He bounded away from us, all muscle and joy. At the sound of his name, Laz whirled and returned, surefooted and exalting. He continued foraging ahead and doubling back until we followed a sign marked “Vista” to some big rocks above the Sheepscot River. Perhaps not understanding the meaning of the word “vista,” Laz leaped without hesitation and disappeared under the water. Momentarily surprised by its depth, he popped up and swam strongly to shore, pausing only to shake off dramatically before rushing back in after a thrown stick. Glorious!
Over the last few days, I have found myself savoring those memories of Laz’s adventure, and it has stirred something in me. He was so free, so glad in his body, as I so often am not. As an introvert of uptight (some would say proper) Irish descent, I know I am stiff in more than my joints. Like Martha in Luke’s Gospel (sister of Lazarus—how about that), I work the perimeter of a party rather than plant myself in the center of the fun. When worship turns exuberant at my church, I can practically feel the rigor mortis setting in, as I resist yet envy those who can give over their whole body to praise.
Thinking of Laz at Porter Preserve reminds me of one of the tenets of Ignatian spirituality: that we draw close to God by recognizing the deepest desires of our hearts. The yearning I feel when I replay the mental images of Laz cavorting through the woods reveals such a desire. Something in me wants to move more freely, less self-consciously in this world. I am drawn to the energy I experienced in Laz unleashed, and I believe this reveals something of God’s desire for me as well. I need to sit with that desire, to notice when I’m following it—and when I’m not.
In her lovely book Dog Songs, Mary Oliver imagines a conversation with a pup who claims to know nothing of prayer. She assures him, “Every time you wake up and love your life and the world, you’re praying, my dear boy.”
Waking up, loving my life, loving the world. At 55, I can’t think of a better way to start each day.