Wilbur  May 2003-December 2012
May 2003-December 2012

“The death of a beloved is an amputation.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

We never expect death, no matter the form it takes, therefore we are never really prepared for it. You might think, as I might too most days, that we should expect death. Death is the end which we all will meet, one day, in one manner or another. We should always expect it, right? It is always out there.

I’m not being morbid.

When I met Wilber, the dog featured in the photo above, we were equally lost and unloveable. He was the runt of an unwanted litter, the least of the least. He was free. He was exactly what I needed. God uses many things in life to help teach us about His love. Or the love we should exhibit for each other. Wilber taught me about acceptance.

Wilber taught almost everyone who knew him that lesson. He was a flawed creature, intimidating and frightening at times, gentle and silly at others. He was unpredictable, and yet, easily read.

Wilber was a dog.

And now, Wilber is gone. That Wilber lived as long as he did is a miracle in itself. As loving as he was to me, and to those who were family, he was also an animal filled with violence. He had bitten and he had scared people. And this part of him, the part that was so dangerous, was just as much a part of him as the gentle, frightened heart we cherished.

His imperfection reminded us that being imperfect is a sign you are living. Toward the end of Wilber’s life he had mellowed. He had endeared himself to those who would otherwise be fearful of him, and he had remained a significant pillar in the building of our family. He had a good life, as good any dog ever did. Then he had a sudden death, but one you could say had been chasing him all along.

We buried him behind the house he spent his last months in. I was there with three of my brothers, my husband and son, a longtime family friend with a special affinity for the black mutt, and my mom and dad. Wilber had lived most of his life in my parents home, and even though I had found him, he wasn’t mine. He was all of ours. So in the chill, on ground frozen still lingering white, we all said goodbye.

He will be sorely missed.

I don’t usually like to write like this. To encourage mindfulness, or to talk of finding greater meaning in the otherwise meaningless. I usually like to avoid putting things out there like this. But this holiday season, too much has happened not to make a statement about it. Not to employ you to hold close those one’s who are dear, or to examine the value in all that you touch.

“So, be careful then how you live, not as unwise, but as wise making the most of every opportunity for the days are evil. Do not be foolish.”

Eph. 5:15


All I Want for Christmas, Part One: Planted Feet and Palms Pressed Together

This is the second Christmas in a row we’ve spent in Texas, when we actually live in New York. This is our second Christmas setting up a tree at a house that isn’t ours. Hanging stockings on a mantel above a hearth that’s not our home. This is the second year of feeling transplanted, up rooted, and disjointed at the Holiday season.

It’s our sons third year of life. His fourth Christmas. My son doesn’t remember the first Christmas he was on earth. He doesn’t remember the snow, or our little house with the white fireplace and the tinsel strung throughout. He can’t remember that for his second Christmas I didn’t want to set up a tree, so I bought a little silver one already twined with lights and plugged it in. He doesn’t know that last year, I hated Christmas. I had no spirit for it. Right now, my son sees a mom determined to be jolly. I’m the mom who took him to the shed behind her uncles house in the darkness, the light from Sam’s flashlight illuminating the path, to haul in a box of Christmas decorations she’d packed away when we moved. He watched me arrange tinsel strung garland across the mantel of a house that isn’t mine. He helped me hang ornaments, some deeply sentimental, in the glow of a lighted tree I didn’t pick out from the store.

We are living a divided life. Our family in Texas, our work in New York. We fly back and forth in airplanes as if we were driving across town in a car. Setting up a tree for Christmas, hanging a stocking, lighting a Hanukkah candle, these things become more important when your life is so confusing.

The Mayans may have been wrong about the world ending today, but it is not wrong to live as if it still could. Because it still could everyday. Mayan foolishness aside, our individual worlds, and the world as a whole, is not guaranteed tomorrow. Life is a complicated game we play, it’s a battlefield you can strategize but never fully control. I played the game of RISK once when I was babysitting a friends son. He was a master strategist at six years old. When we were setting up our campaigns, he explained I had gotten lucky. I got continents that work easily together. My battlefront would be more united because I wasn’t operating from a disadvantage created by previous misunderstanding or skirmish.

This was a pretty layered examination of the RISK world, six year old or not, and something I still think about many years later.

We are in a strange time. A time where we lose things and where we find new things. A time where we hold close those we love, and where we have to be willing to hand them off as well. The Holidays tend to make reflection difficult. It’s more common to be caught up, to be hustled and bustled into a credit card meltdown or a gift giving coma, but a gentle easing on of glasses over eyes for examination may be the prescription for the ailment of this peculiar season.

On Tuesday I took my son shopping in Denton. We went to the Square, which is filled with locally owned shops stocked with simple and personal presents. My son was wide eyed as we walked through the stores. He was picking out gifts for cousins and grandmas and Daddy. And I let him. And it was amazing to observe his choices. With every gift we bought, he reminded me why it mattered to buy in the first place. Why, when life is a hodgepodge of wonder and ruin, we keep walking on, holding hands, connected even as the world falls apart.

I won’t pretend to understand anything, or to always do good, or to always have faith. I won’t lie to you, many days I fall short. I just know that from the mouth of babes wisdom flows, and I believe, wisdom changes us. Division, bitterness, resentment will make you lose the battle. Link hands this Christmas. Pray together. Dance together. Play Patty Cake together. Whatever. Even if tomorrow you want to create a fist. Tomorrow may surprise you still.
sam hand