I've always loved twilight, that genial grace between the day's bustle and the quiet of night. It's a chance to maybe squeeze one last thing in before darkness overtakes the world, or perhaps to slow down and melt with the setting sun into the evening. But, now, we're facing a twilight I detest.
It started with a limp, one we noticed when he was straining against the leash, pressing to walk faster than his human companions. Arthritis, we thought, because Ferris has lived an active life and he's pushing hard on 14 years old.
The limp worsened, quickly, and his veterinarian - who happens to be our oldest son, Miles - took him for a check-up. We figured it wasn't good when he pulled out his phone to show pictures of an X-ray. He pointed out what we were supposed to look for, and he explained that a bone should look smooth, not fuzzy, on an X-ray. Our good dog's left shoulder bone was fuzzy, and bone cancer is the diagnosis.
So, we enter this twilight, a murky dusk that leads to a dreaded night. How long? We don't know, but I can't help hearing the clock ticking in the background. I know, too soon, his mat will lay empty, and I'll never see him standing by the gate, welcoming me home with the hope that a walk or a rawhide might be coming his way.
He's already gotten pretty good at a three-legged hop sort of thing, but I wince every time I see him do it. And the whole time, he's wagging that tail, still happy to be a part of our lives, to be part of the family. He'll sit and watch the table while we eat, as if he thinks this is the exact moment we'll drop an entire pork chop, not notice it on the floor, and he'll get to eat the whole blooming thing. That great tail still wags, but my eyes get hot and burn as I ponder the day when it grows still, telling us he's had enough.
Fourteen years is a long time with a dog, I remind myself, and I ought to be grateful. I am, truly, but that doesn't keep me from wanting to stretch the twilight as long as we can. It doesn't keep me from wanting to delay the emptiness and the longing that goodby portends.
We could have easily avoided this gloom. Thirteen and a half years ago when he showed up uninvited to our home in rural Pike County, Georgia, all we had to do is to ignore him. Let him be, just another six or so month old puppy who ran away from home or, worse, was dumped on a dirt road and left to fend for himself. We never should have let him get close to us. Had we gone on about our lives, about our business, I wouldn't be sitting here today half blubbering while I'm trying to type. One's heart, you see, can be protected, but only if it is locked alone in a prison that shuts the world out.
What, then, would we have missed had we spared ourselves this present pain? I'll save those details for another day, but rest assured that our family will be telling Ferris stories for years to come. I'll take every sad bit, if that's the price for all the joy.
I've walked the journey of death and loss with many families throughout my ministry, and my own family has trod that path, as well. A simple, but powerful truth has struck me and has stuck with me, and it is this - We mourn deeply because we have loved deeply, and we have been deeply loved.
I would never trade the pain of loss for the false peace of never having my heart broken. Not with an old dog, and certainly not with human beings. Not if it means missing the loving and the memories and the laughter and the blessings. I'll take this twilight, and the looming darkness, for there is nothing like loving. And being loved.