A Letter To My Rock – [Lucky and Sabrina recently lost their nine-year old Dobie, Rock.]

by Lucky Garvin

Dear Rock,

First, the vet was there that day because we called her to set you free. Ultimately it was my decision to make as, of all our pets, you were clearly ‘my boy’ as I was yours. Soon after you arrived here, it was obvious, to a degree far and above our other animals, you sought me out, content to sit with me or wait for my arrival home late at night. But, finally, I had to do for you what you were unable to do for yourself.

I wrote an article about you, but strangely, there is more to say. I believe you left some remarkable gifts behind, hidden here and there; mine for the keeping, if I’m willing to open them, and to understand.

Soon after your arrival, you began to watch for me; if you dogs were passing me by, you alone would turn and come back to sit by me, forsaking your pack. When I first noticed your behavior, I went to Sabrina several times and said, with some disbelief, “You know, I think that dog likes me.” Ever more wise than I, she said, “No, he loves you.” I’d just shake my head. Crazy old dog.

Finally, Sabrina said, “He has chosen you,” still waiting for me to get it: unconditional love, with no word ever spoken, a concept you have to experience to understand, no matter how bright you think you may be.

Rock, you had chosen me.

The pain of your passing got worse, not better, so I knew there was more work to be done, something inside me, something you, somehow, had pointed me towards. So it is of that, the gifts you left us, I wish to speak.

The suffering in our world is far too great for any one person to assuage, so I have always measured my moral obligations by watching for anything, anyone, who crossed my path. Cross my path and I am morally bound to try to help you.  Little did I suspect the day you crossed my path, I had crossed yours.

I have long suspected I do not love well. I have worried, seriously, that there might be something broken, something of the sociopath in me; a sociopath with a good bedside manner. But, no sociopath would have cried over you as I have. Sabrina said, “When you get to the bottom of it, you will find they are old tears.”

I am a care-taker, that’s what I do; and it started long ago, evidently shaping my world view. Yet, to care for someone is not the same thing as to care about them. Perhaps what I mean can be best traced to my years as a teenager. I grew up quite isolated not merely by rural geography, but by my responsibilities.  As I recall, for some years, I arose about 6:00 when my parents left for work. I was in charge of my younger brothers; the whole thing, feed, clean, school, make supper. Weekends, there were seven acres of lawn to mow, and always, always there was firewood to cut.

My father, whom I adored, and by whom I so wanted to be loved, was a hard and unemotional man by anyone’s standards; but he had one characteristic he admired above all others. Work. So I worked; I traded caretaking and work for such small portions of his affections as he was able to give.

One day I had shouldered a large log and was walking it to the cutting shed. I heard gravel crunch on the road behind me, turned, and Dad came to a stop. The narrow set of his mouth softened into a near-smile, and he nodded at me and drove off.  That was as close to an ‘attaboy’ as was available from him, and it was for such small crumbs I worked.

There’s no drama here, no sense of deficiency or martyrdom; love is not a gift, it’s a trade, pure and simple. I take care of others, no one takes care of me; I don’t expect it; I’m not sure what to do with it. That’s just how it was with me until you and Sabrina came along…

Sabrina said, “So you traded in your childhood for a nod.”  “…old tears.”  I guess that’s true. But there was more: I became convinced – like you know the earth is round – that work and caretaking were things I could trade for love, but if I stopped working, the love would stop. So when my dear Sabrina would ask me, strangely, ‘Do you feel loved?” I would say ‘yes,’ but all the while not sure exactly what she meant, or what that feeling had to do with anything. A better question might have been, “Are you able to feel loved?” Well, sure, as long as I’ve got something to swap.

Try as she would, even my Sabrina could not remedy this problem she sensed in me, and to which I was oblivious. She needed help. Then you came to us. I never mowed your lawn, cut your wood, or tended your kids.  I had nothing to bargain with you; but you loved me nonetheless. You loved me…

So I’ll continue to work on this issue, knowing old engrams die hard, but this much is now certainly true: finally relieved of my obligation to ‘earn’ love, I will be a better physician, father, and a better friend and husband to my Sabrina.

I love you, Rock   

-Your Old Man


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