When Connor (rest in peace, buddy) was a puppy, still toddling around on too big paws and unbalanced legs, we took him to a friend’s house to visit. Our friend’s had a three year old daughter and the mom guided her daughter’s small hand under Connor’s front legs to feel his puppy-sized heartbeat. I remember it clearly because I felt foolish for never having previously stopped to appreciate a detail so small yet powerful. Throughout Connor’s life I remembered that moment and occasionally would pause to slip my hand under a front leg and onto his chest to feel that solid thumping. I had no idea one day I’d be slipping my hand under his leg and onto his chest for the last time to feel the absence of his heartbeat.
The night Connor died we had been checking on him but giving him his space as we waited outside for the vet to arrive. When the vet finally did get to us and we took her inside, Connor had already died. But I was in shock. I didn’t believe that he was dead. I put my hand on his chest, grasping for that reassuring thumping of his heart. I’d felt it so many times before, was thankful for it, and for that friend in the beginning pointing out the magic of it, I was sure it would still be there. It wasn’t. I only felt the pounding of my own heartbeat against his rigor-stiffened ribs.
Those heartbeat moments have been on my mind lately. The special ones at the beginning where I realized I needed to take time to appreciate the small miracles of life, and that final time that I felt his fur against my hand and the absence his heartbeat. They are on my mind because we are getting a new German Shepherd puppy. I am beyond excited. But the excitement is tinged with sadness. If our sweet dog hadn’t died so young, we wouldn’t be getting a puppy.
I know that when we pick up the puppy, the first thing I’ll do (after crying my eyes out) will be to put my palm against his small chest and feel the power of his heartbeat against my hand. Our new furry family member will be named Hinter. That’s not a typo. Hinter is short for Hinterland, one of the defitions is “an area lying beyond what is visible or known.” I think that is perfect. There is so much we don’t know, certainly we never expected to lose our young dog so soon, nor to expect another new spirit in our lives. Hinter also mean’s “after” in German, which seemed a fitting honor for the dog who is coming after Connor.
There is much to be sad about in the world, the ailing health of family members, strained relationships, changes in jobs and income and careers. But if we can find the little moments in life that give reminders of the wonders of life, the miraculous in the common as Emerson put it, we can remind ourselves about the joy in the world that is present in the small things.
Appreciating the heartbeat of my new puppy will not take away the pain or the memory of losing Connor. But will instead remind me to appreciate all of the little, special moments that makeup every day. I am trying to take my own lesson of gratitude that I talked about earlier this week to heart. Being thankful isn’t just for the month of November, or a series of Facebook updates. It’s a choice we have to make every day to remind ourselves how fortunate we really are.
Without further ado, please meet Hinter…
All puppy photos are courtesy of Candle Hill Shepherds. If you are looking for a German Shepherd breeder, I highly recommend checking them out. And if you want to know why, feel free to contact me so I can let you know why I’m such a fan.