photo from the facebook page collectionYou all know by now that I have a long distance relationship with a dog I've never met. His name is Atticus. He doesn't actually know me, but I read his story last year and was utterly captivated by him, and inspired by the journey he and his human friend have shared together. Since finishing Following Atticus I have followed Tom Ryan (author) and his household on facebook and their blog. Daily photos, stories, quotes, and wisdom have a way of sending roots of affection into the lives and hearts of others who now follow Atticus (and company) as well. It should come as no surprise, then, that when life's shock waves rock their world, my heart feels the tremors.
In the last little bit two significant things have hit the Ryan household that have sent me reeling, with tears erupting and heart squeezing with the kind of ache that can only exist as a result of deep love. Let me say up front that I am aware that my reaction is counter-transference empathy, or something like that. I've known my share of relational heartache, and I have loved a dog so deeply that, well, I still ache with his loss five years later. I love all of my dogs deeply, and each are unique and special and I am utterly devoted to them. Dooley's place in my heart, though, has been unparalleled. All this is to say that although we can never know exactly how another person feels, we can empathize with what they are experiencing and feel compassion for them. And, yes, a piece of my own grief is punctured and released as well, blurring the line between my history and Tom's present. Nonetheless, I am empathizing with Tom Ryan right now following the mutual break up with the woman he loved, and now with a health event for Atticus that could prove life-threatening.
I know that we can become attached and feel connected to people and animals we don't know, real and fictitious. Our hearts are touched by their lives, their actions, their quirks, their tenderness--when something happens with them or to them, the ripple of that event washes over us as well. So it is right now for me with this household tucked away in New Hampshire. On Friday Atticus will have a toe amputated, the result of what appears to be a festering mass. If the subsequent biopsy reveals cancer, the prognosis is likely unwelcome.
Sob! The ache of a deep love whose trajectory has taken a different path, and the raw and isolating nature of that grief must now absorb this new threat to the incredible and intimate relationship that Tom and Atticus share. I am both astounded by and grateful for my reaction to these happenings in their lives. It is a testament to the rich and simple life they live and share with others on their own terms, achieved through determination and commitment to basic principles about what is valued in life. It is a joy and privilege to witness the integrity and authenticity of their lives and feel that, by following along, a piece of it is our journey, too.
For as long as necessary, I am committing my prayers to this special household, to hold them in the light and ask that their lives be showered with love, healing, and a community of support that may take the sting out of whatever may lie ahead. It is the very least I can do for them after all they have provided to me.