Enveloped by the carnage of war, Napoleon Bonaparte once recalled,
Amidst the deep silence of a beautiful moon-light, a dog, leaping suddenly from beneath the clothes of his dead master, rushed upon us, and then immediately returned to his hiding-place, howling piteously. He alternately licked his master’s hand, and ran towards us, as if at once soliciting aid and seeking revenge.
Whether, owing to my particular turn of mind at the moment, the time, the place, or the action itself, I know not, but certainly, no incident, on any field of battle, ever produced so deep an impression on me. I involuntarily stopped to contemplate the scene. This man, thought I, has friends in the camp, or in his company, and here he lies forsaken by all except his dog….
I had without emotion, ordered battles which were to decide the fate of the army; I had beheld, with tearless eyes, the execution of those operations by which numbers of my countrymen were sacrificed; and here my feelings were roused by the mournful howlings of a dog! Certainly, at that moment, I should have been easily moved by a suppliant enemy. I could very well imagine Achilles surrendering up the body of Hector at the sight of Priam’s tears.
In the past, I’ve often shared this passage with those who had lost their beloved canine compatriots, finding its understated emotion to be the epitome of eloquence. There was something beautiful about such a tragic image, the authenticity of unbroken fidelity standing against a backdrop of desolation. Yet, it wasn’t until recently that this quotation of exceptional accuracy, and almost startling poignancy, transformed into something painfully-intimate.
I’ve long been convinced of the majesty that is a dog, their inherent honesty, unwavering loyalty, and exuberant love that knows neither bounds nor conditions. Yet it was only after I sat in the deafening silence left by my four-legged partner in crime’s absence, that I could fully appreciate these remarkable virtues, and reflect upon how inexplicably lucky we are to enjoy the earnest companionship they unfailingly provide. Better friends I suspect we could never know.
In the uncomfortable quiet, I sit and fondly reminisce about the good times, the years of untold joy she never ceased to bring me. With a prominent smile, I reflect on her unique quirks and mannerisms, the stunning magnitude of her larger-than-life persona. Before long, I transition into pondering how I’ll miss our lengthy strolls in the frigid cold, the impromptu horseplay even when it accidentally drew blood, the sounds of her favorite music—Count Basie and Andrea Bocelli—playing on a loop, and the weight of her 130-pound frame leaning against my knees.
Yet, I ultimately settle not on what I’ll miss the most, but on the profound wisdom she unintentionally bestowed on a fellow for whom so much of life’s intangibles had been lost in the chaos of daily existence. I move forward knowing that each day should be lived as if it were the last, that there’s untold value in cherishing every passing moment, every experience. That there’s no shame in abandoning the grandiose in favor of taking ample time to savor life’s simple pleasures. Perhaps most importantly of all, my dog taught me about what humanity could be, what it should be.
In the final days, when I was paralyzed by selfish despair and the fear of loss, I realized that she had already prepared me to render a final act of compassion on her behalf. She had prepared me for the excruciating journey that would eventually lead to the discovery of long-sought comfort, finding a modicum of solace in knowing that she’s finally at peace, at rest in a place of unparalleled tranquility.
I strongly suspect that I, like many other grief-stricken dog owners, eye the day when we’re able to reunite with our companions as old “grey hairs”, eagerly-awaiting a guided tour of the new “territory”. But until that distant time comes, we ought to live as they’d want us to, inspired by passion and guided by unrestrained love.
(Featured image “Sonny”, by author)