Vespa came to me in my dreams last night, wanting a walk. She wagged her tail and moaned her emphatic morning song, and off we went to greet the day.
When I met Vespa in 2008, we were rehearsing Camilla’s a cappella group. The enthusiastic Italian spinone nuzzled her way into the circle of eighth grade girls and sang along with the warm-ups. I had no clue how important Vespa would become to me. Still, what music teacher wouldn’t love a singing dog?
Two months later I spent my first week with Vespa. It was April vacation, and the Worsfolds needed a dog sitter. I needed sanctuary.
Vespa didn’t ask about my decision to get divorced. She couldn’t guide me through the heartbreaking conversations or navigate the maze of paperwork. But she could lie beside me for long, silent stretches. She was willing to take a walk at any hour of the day or night.
Thus began a beautiful relationship. Since we met when grief had laid me low, I never cherished any illusions about the nature of our bond. Vespa was the master, I the student.
Lesson One: Walk.
Walking requires so little. You don’t need a plan for the rest of your life. You don’t even need a plan beyond the next block. If I wasn’t in the mood for decision-making, Vespa gladly steered us. She led me through forests and fields, along beaches and down the tidy streets of Hamilton and Wenham. She walked me through my darkest days and into the open years that lay beyond.
Season by season, we walked through life’s trials and transformations.
We walked as life brought new love.
We walked when terror shook our city.
A good walk puts almost anything into perspective, but there are times when perspective isn’t what we need. On the hardest days, presence is the only balm we can seek. Thank God for dogs, who know more of presence than their students.
Lesson Two: Linger.
Vespa was the consummate walking dog. She never barked but nodded convivially at the dogs that did.
She didn’t yank at her leash or chase squirrels. Vespa’s only quirk was a tendency to pause. She might lie on her back and roll on the ground. She might sniff a particular tree or blade of grass. Sometimes she’d stand stock still for a few moments, offering no clue as to her motivation.
I learned not to argue with these pauses. When Vespa stopped, I did, too. I’d take in the shape of a tree, the color of the sky, or the exultant expanse of her tufted belly.
Vespa’s love of lingering took root in me. There are many moments in a day when it’s possible to stop for a moment and soak up a sight or a sound. When I pause in the midst of my bustling and breathe in the fragrance of my life, I have Vespa to thank.
Lesson Three: Love.
Vespa lived with gusto. She inhaled her meals. She greeted friends and strangers with exuberance. If we left food on the counter, she stalked and seized it without regret.
Vespa loved life, and life loved Vespa. She never noticed that she was a big, smelly dog who left white fur on dark clothing and slobber on slippers. Her family and friends noticed from time to time, but she loved us so well that we couldn’t help overlooking these matters. Time with Vespa always reminded me that flaws aren’t worth my fixation. Love is what lasts.
Lesson Four: Let go.
When I arrived at the Worfold residence two weeks ago, I thought I was in town for a job interview. In retrospect I realize I was there to say goodbye. I got to sit beside Vespa for long, silent stretches.
We took our final walk. We lingered.
I buried my face in her wiry fur. I let gratitude become a lump in my throat, an ache in my chest. I hugged her family longer and more often than usual, knowing that Vespalove is part and parcel of Worsfoldlove.
I got the news of Vespa’s passing yesterday. Surely for decades to come the thought of Vespa will make me pause in the midst of my bustling, though I won’t always weep the way I do now. The final lesson of any love comes in letting go. Still, when I need it most, I expect I’ll be walking Vespa in my dreams.