At the beginning of this summer, I took in a pregnant foster dog, Becky. She was little more than a puppy herself: nine months old, a stray, with a golden coat and the brindled markings of a shepherd mix. She had an open, friendly face, eyes alert for whatever will happen next.
As soon as she arrived, the house took on an aspect of waiting. I found myself watching her belly, placing my hand there to feel the puppies moving inside, while Becky and I gazed at one another: a vast, reverberant silence between us. This waiting—it felt like a kind of worship.
A week later, she gave birth to eight puppies. While I was in my office, looking up signs of imminent labor on the Internet, Becky jumped up on my lounge chair and started delivering the first puppy. I rushed out to find the first pup still emerging, nestled in the amniotic sac, and Becky gazing at it with puzzled focus. Then her instinct kicked in, and she began lapping with deep moist strokes to free the baby from its watery sac and chew off its umbilical cord.
The puppy—wet and slick and free of her mother—began to chirp, and Becky curled her front paw and pulled the baby deep into the cave she made of her abdomen. Only then did she look at me again, panting, and again some wordless communion passed between us. I’ve got this, she seemed to say. Trust me.
For the next four hours I sat by her side as more pups arrived, each puppy a surprise, the coloring apparent through the amniotic sac. Each one stretched its small limbs and chirped once free of the sac and under the care of its mother’s tongue. People came to help, and left. The mailman brought the mail. My cell phone beeped. The workaday world carried on around me, but Becky and I had entered a space both separate from and connected to that world.
As Robert Vivian said in his book The Dignity of Crumbs: “The strings tying us to each other are everywhere.” This sentiment becomes more obvious when in the presence of birth or death, when all the portals are open.
I spent the next eight weeks in the presence of puppies. For the first two weeks, they were still embryonic, with eyes shut tight and little wax nubbins for ears. But soon enough they grew into full-fledged, rambunctious kids, taking over my home, a little like a swarm of piranhas. I felt a strong responsibility and love for them all, but also felt a deep relief when they were all gone and safely adopted into their new homes.
So, for me, this summer will always be known as the “summer of puppies.” What name would your summer have, if you could name it? What has marked the season? Have you been able to take a real break from your “ordinary life?”
In this article from the NY Times, author Daniel Levitin writes about the importance of hitting the “reset button” in our brains, in whatever ways that might manifest. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as a herd of puppies yapping for your attention. It can be as simple as absorbing yourself even for just a few minutes a day in something you love—a book, a craft, a special picnic breakfast outside.
Write for 15 minutes starting with the title “My Summer of _______. ” Capture on paper whatever has been capturing you.
Yours in the aftermath of puppy love,