I’ve spent far too many years than I care to recall pining brokenheartedly over my quest for true love, or the lack of it. I’ve prayed for it, wept for it, whined pathetically to friends about it, or looked for it in all in the wrong places. And you know what? None of all that wasted energy has ever gotten me one step closer to meeting Mr. Right. (It probably doesn’t help my case any that I’m hopelessly socially awkward, but I digress.)
So imagine my surprise on the day recently after a lovelorn pity-party that a still, small thought flickered into my sad mind: you do have a true love, a soul mate, who is already lying right there next to you on the futon! A living, breathing, beautiful lady who, even now, is dreaming and barking adorably in her sleep.
Yep. All that time that I was looking for my Prince Charming, I was overlooking the princess who was already giving me all the unconditional, forgiving love – and more – that I sometimes think one heart can give. Her name is Chloe, a Cocker Spaniel, and she has been my constant companion since 2004.
I think it has to be one of God’s mysteries and secrets that we’ll never be able to truly know how He built into so many animal species the ability to give love and trust to we humans, even when our sometimes negligent or hateful behavior doesn’t deserve it. That bond has been the subject of countless books, songs, and films. There’s even a new film about it, Darling Companion, directed by Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) premiering this Friday in New York and Los Angeles, starring Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline.
With Chloe, though, there was a period back in 2004 when I wasn’t even sure that I wanted her when she was first offered to me. Her first master was a friend of mine who passed away. He knew his time was limited, and he had spread the word among his close social circle that one of his final wishes was that Chloe and his other dog would be taken in by friends rather than risk being put down in a shelter or adopted by careless or unloving people. After my friend’s passing, Chloe was adopted by another friend until – due to a newborn child – she was no longer able to devote the amount of affection and care that Chloe craved.
Did I want to take Chloe? Well, I honestly wasn’t sure. In fact, I hedged for more than a week, because what little social life I deludingly believed I had felt more important to me than providing for a little life. I was more concerned with continuing to circulate among the Midtown nightspots trying to meet men who never materialized in my life than I was with giving love to a creature who needed a stable home.
It took some good-natured coaxing from my friend and my sister to become Chloe’s new papa. Their reasoning was that it would be good for me to have this companion to be a presence in my loneliness. I accepted Chloe begrudgingly. Even after taking her in, I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right decision or whether I wanted to keep her.
Even to this day it breaks my heart to remember the many nights that I continued to stay out late or – in some cases – all night in the selfish quest for a good time, while at home there was a beautiful little lady who was sitting alone in the dark, hungry, needing to go potty outside. That’s a kind of guilt that can break even the toughest, most calloused heart. It’s a cruel and convicting blow that’s hard to endure. And yet, every time I walked back in the door with shame hanging heavy in my heart, Chloe was always right there with an uncontainable excitement at seeing my face and the understanding that she would be taken care of. If she could have leapt up into my arms in those moments, I believe she would have. I frequently liken it to the exuberant welcome Fred Flintstone always receives from Dino, but better.
In the ensuing years, I’d gotten the Midtown foolishness out of my system and settled down to a less unsavory lifestyle. I confess, however, that although I still haven’t always been the ideal model of a pet parent, I’ve always been more conscious of the fact that I’m ultimately responsible for feeding, getting medical care for, exercising, loving, and hugging this furry, four-legged sweet child of mine.
Even with my very human episodes of impatience, frustration, anger, unintentional neglect, and other emotionally raw brokenness, Chloe has always been – and continues to be – right there with earnestness in her eyes, perhaps a little fear in her mind, and a lot of forgiveness in her heart. In her intuitive magic that can only come from God, she even senses when I’m in a tense or unhappy state and rushes to my side with a paw on my leg or arm, urging me to tell her what’s wrong.
“Share the burden of your pain, Daddy, I’m here for you. It’s going to be alright.”
She truly is one of God’s creatures great and small.
I think she’ll keep me.