There’s strength in simplicity


As most of you know, we recently lost our beloved Igor after a wonderful 16-year stretch of having her in our family. The hurt hasn’t receded, nor has the emptiness. But what I’ve discovered over the last month is what an incredible mark she has left on me — not in the way one would usually think. During my time with my best friend, I do believe I became more like her.

There is no question the love of a dog is unconditional, oftentimes only surpassed by the love of Jesus Christ Himself. We all know the expression that God spelled backwards is dog. But that doesn’t translate into other languages, so the strength of that statement loses it’s umph.

Anyway, as is often the case, I digress (that might not be a bad epitaph for my tombstone: “He digressed.” But here I go digressing again). Back to point, I will never forget all those times when I came home after being at work, Mass, shopping, etc., and Iggy would wag her tail so emphatically her whole hindquarters joined the dance. And then when I acknowledged her frenetic greeting by stooping down to grab her by the face and shake up the front quarters, her ears would pin back as if being blown back by gale-force winds.

In short, Iggy was just so darn happy to see me and greet me and be greeted.

This is the lesson I learned most from the best dog ever (and to all of you who have had or have a dog, yours too, are the best dogs ever).

I now segue into the second half of my column. I often enjoy taking a walk down at Battleship Cove in Fall River — for several reasons. One, I really dig walking the boardwalk, especially when the tide is high and the water embraces the shore beneath me in some places. I’ve always been a salt-water guy. Another reason is the history that just paints a picture before your very eyes. I begin my walk in the parking lot of the U.S.S. Massachusetts. Right off the bat, I’m greeted with the magnificence of the “Big Mamie,” along with its dock mates: a U.S. Navy destroyer, PT Boat, and submarine.

I can’t help but think of my dad Larry each time, him having spent many perilous hours aboard a similar destroyer in the South Pacific during World War II — as well as myriad men and women who served with him there and in Europe.

My walk reaches the halfway point at a replica statue of the iconic Iwo Jima image of soldiers hoisting our U.S. flag on a mountain on the recently-taken island, memorializing all those who served in World War II. In the same area are memorials to fallen soldiers and Korean War veterans. It’s here where I make a 180 and return: one mile out, one mile in.

But that’s not the point of the story. I suppose I digressed again. Go figure. The point I’m trying to get across is the lessons taught by Professor Iggy. If you remember, I mentioned her great joy in greeting and being greeted. The element I most enjoy on my walks on the boardwalk is encountering other people. While it’s nice to get away by one’s self on occasion, we are all meant to be social animals.

I love when people are walking towards me. I debate within my own mind whether these people will give me a smile, a nod, a hello, or simply ignore me and walk on by. And to make things clearer, these I folks I don’t know. Should someone I know just walk on by and ignore me, which hasn’t yet happened, I may slip into another of Igor’s talents — barking!

I am pleased to say that most people will smile and say good day. And truth be told, it makes my day. If others had the same mindset as I approached them, they needn’t wonder because I will always smile and say hello. To me, it’s one of the simplest actions one can perform, yet it is far beyond being simple.

A smile, a nod, a hello each tells me that I am acknowledged and worth at least a moment of their time. In a world filled with hate, division, racism and intolerance, a smile, nod, or hello is an elixir. Thank God I don’t wag my rear end every time someone approaches — I might be asked not to return to the boardwalk! And thank God I don’t pin my ears back when someone does acknowledge me, or else those nice people would think I was a character out of Star Trek or Harry Potter.

I take my walks to treat my body kindly, but also to clear my head. And when my head gets cleared, it leaves a vacuum (some may say my head is always empty, but I digress [insert smiley face here]). And by the very nature of science, nature abhors a vacuum. So when my head is clear the best thing to first counter that vacuum is a smile, a nod, a hello, or all three. It’s like a pit stop for the soul.

Igor genuinely loved greeting and being greeted, and she taught me those same traits. Thus, Igor will remain a part of me for as long as there is no tombstone with the words “He digressed.”

And, if you’ll indulge one last digression, I will conclude this column with a boardwalk story that happened days after Igor left us. I was concluding my walk and heading over the bridge near where the Taunton and Quequechan rivers meet, and a couple was heading toward me. With them was a puppy — not only a puppy, but a puppy who was a mirror image of Iggy as a pup. I smiled at the couple as they walked past. I stopped in my tracks. I had to talk to them. I turned and got their attention and asked if their precious pup was an Australian Cattle Dog or Border Collie (Igor was both). They said Aussie.

I did something I never do, not even with pictures of my children in my wallet all those years ago. I showed them a picture of Iggy and explained what just happened. They marveled at her being with us for 16 years. And, not to be a downer for them, I told them to enjoy their beautiful pup and the long, long life they have ahead with her. I then stooped down to pet the pup and she wagged her hindquarters like a washing machine in the spin cycle, and pinned her ears back and proceeded to shower me with puppy kisses.

We all chuckled and went our separate ways. I finished my walk with tears in my eyes. I know it was Iggy paying me a small visit, telling me to keep on greeting and being greeted. Such a simple act with such strength in it.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts