Today Michael stopped on the side of the road to FaceTime me because he saw a giant turtle. I love animals. And I love to spot them in the wild. Michael gets it and humors me often. At closer look, it appeared the turtle was suffering, having been hit by a car. I asked him to move it from the road. He said that wouldn’t be the best thing for the turtle.
I trust Michael about these things.
My mom knew my Michael was a keeper when he bought roses for me and for her when our dog of 7 years, Cuddles, died.
She was right.
When I was 23 I bought a small house in the country and a small dog to protect me and keep me company. He was a rescue dog from the local animal shelter who needed a bath, a hair cut, and a whole heap of behavior training. I was ready for the task. I named him Fritz.
The first day I had him was wonderful. I had him groomed, bought him special food, and played and played with him as he was desperately starved for attention. That evening, Michael came to visit along with some friends, and as they were leaving, Fritz darted out the front door and was promptly struck and killed by a car.
They didn’t even stop.
In complete disbelief, I continued to look for my dog. It was so dark. I was sure that he had run into the adjacent field. I went in the house to find a flashlight. Michael approached me so tenderly and said, ‘The car that went by hit him, and he didn’t make it.’
He didn’t say much else. He simply listened to me cry while digging the deepest hole he could. It must have been 5 feet deep. It was such a deep hole. He dug for so long, assuring that nothing would disrupt Fritz’ resting place. When the grave was prepared, he wrapped Fritz in a towel and held him. Michael covered his fractured body and exposed his perfectly intact, freshly groomed face so I could pet him one last time. I asked again, ‘are you sure?’.
That’s all he said. And then he buried him and sat with me and listened to me cry. And cry. And cry.
That night I knew Michael would be a wonderful father. Wonderful fathers do really hard things, like bury the family pet. My own father must have conducted dozens of pet funerals in my childhood. (One time we hosted the class hamster for a weekend who had a litter of babies and then ate most of her litter. Second grade trauma.)
Since that time, Michael has conducted/attended funerals for cats, goldfish, dogs, and one time a raccoon that we thought was a cat. (It was a WHOLE thing.) Not to usher animal spirits into heaven, or any such thing, but always with the same resolve to provide comfort for the one who grieves their loss.
Last week I saw an elderly man on the side of the road with a shovel. He must have been in his seventies. He was waiting for a break in traffic to retrieve the family cat. I wondered how many times he had done that for his family. They live on a busy road.
Immediately, I was overcome with gratitude for my husband’s ability to do that really hard thing. It is a common thing but it is a great, hard thing. And for being the one who, even though he didn’t have the same connection with Nolan’s goldfish or my mom’s cat or my dog, provides unmatchable comfort for his family when they need it.
I don’t know why God gave us creatures. Maybe it’s a display of His creativity. Maybe it’s to teach us about empathy. Or responsibility. Or compassion. Or death. Or life. Maybe it’s that through them we know more about Him. Whatever the reason, the wonder of it all, for me, is a reminder of our humanness and His eternity.
And, today, a reminder to me that I married a really, really wonderful man.