It was a scream.
The abrupt, violent, shake-you-to-your-spine kind of movie-scream.
Only this time, it wasn’t the movies; it was real life. It was my wife.
Instinct told me that Jacquie herself was okay but that something was wrong, gravely wrong. Instinct was right. It usually is.
I exploded out of bed, flew down the stairs and even broke the baby gate as I blasted into the room. Still screaming, Jacquie was crying nearly undecipherable words, yet I kept hearing something about “the dog.”
My eyes darted down, only to see that our dog, Jewel, three-years old, was choking. Dying? Maybe. But clearly choking — and uncontrollably so — on her side like a horse, with legs flailing, convulsing, frothing at the mouth. It was a horrible sight.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, “in distress” would be an enormously mild way of describing it. It was a life or death situation, and, as a dog lover, doing nothing meant death — not an option. Oh, and there was no time to call a vet, either.
Luckily, my recent American Heart Association CPR training (something I highly recommend) kicked right in. I started chest compressions with a vengeance, but they didn’t seem to work. What now? “Okay,” I thought, “I’ll jam my fingers down her throat.” As I did, I cut my hand, which quickly became bloodied by Jewel’s sharp, strong canine teeth. Somehow, after a couple attempts, I cleared the obstruction.
Two vets and several doggie kisses later, we got the much hoped-for report: no broken ribs from my chest compressions (trust me, I wasn’t gentle), nothing more lodged in her throat, an injection of medicine to coat her tummy and a good prognosis that she’d likely be just fine. And she was. Thank God.
Jewel was back — ours again. Healthy, happy, furry. Alive.
This incident got me to thinking, though: “What would’ve happened if we’d have lost Jewel?” What would I remember most about her? What would have been my furry friend’s “good old days?”
Would they be:
- the day I picked her up when it was raining so heavily that I timed my dart from the car into the Paws With A Cause building, seeing her so young and weak and pitifully adorable?
- our runs together, watching her romp off-leash in the snow drifts at the park?
- how she greeted me every day after work — body shaking with excitement and tail spinning like a helicopter with furry paws batting at me over the baby gate?
- Jewel meeting our newborn daughter, Ava, for the first time, sniffing, licking and wondering what had forever changed with what she thought was our agreed-upon deal: a two-person-only human family?
- the times when I’d dump her 50-lb. bag of food into her container and watch her as she chomped at the Niagara-like cascade of kibbles, frantically then scrambling to pick up each of the 237 morsels she’d just batted onto the floor with her furry nose?
This also got me to thinking about other life (translated: non-dog) events and what I value enough to remember about them. The good old days, right? And aren’t the good old days really just a series of memory-makers that we experience, store and then re-live when we need them most?
The events we go through are, of course, to be appreciated in the moment, but that’s just it — they’re moments. It’s the memories that live on, that we treasure and that give life so much meaning.
Some of my life’s “good old day” memories include:
- learning to swim at some Holiday Inn near Cedar Point — with my dad encouraging me to jump into the pool;
- the early ‘70s day our family bought a 12-lane bowling alley in Port Huron and the decade-plus of memories and lifelong relationships that came with it;
- my pilgrimage to Italy — incomprehensible beauty and history everywhere my eyes landed;
- meeting my wife, courting her and getting married;
- the absolute privilege of being there as my dad took his last breath;
- experiencing the miracle of birth, twice.
Yet, as I look at the above, those precious experiences are really the obvious, low-hanging fruit of memories, aren’t they? Life-defining and inherently important all, but also self-evident, time-etched memories. Easy ones to make the Lifetime Memory List, really.
But what about the not-so-obvious? Is the ordinary ever extra-ordinary and worth elevating to this lofty designation? At first glimpse, it appears not. Yet, maybe it can be, and maybe it just might happen more than you think.
Maybe the memory of, say, ordering your 1,517th Triple Ristretto Venti Nonfat Organic Chocolate Brownie Frappuccino, Extra Hot With Foam and Whipped Cream Upside Down and Double Blended at one of the 58 Starbucks on your daily commute isn’t the one I’m suggesting you commit to long-term memory. But, what about the serendipitous discussion you had while standing in line at Starbucks with the clearly time-warn, haggard and likely homeless person who just wanted to chat about the weather and engage on an adult level for 90 seconds with another human being?
Did you lift their spirits simply by engaging with them, acknowledging their human-ness when so many others wouldn’t have given them a second look, let alone a full-on conversation? And, more importantly, what would be their memory of this uniquely thoughtful pay-it-forward moment?
Clearly, if you try to make everything memorable, then nothing is memorable, so I’m not suggesting that you force this line of thinking. But my point is that there can be many, many things worth remembering even in the otherwise mundane. You just have to be open to it.
It’s your choice then. The good old days you’re making now, right now, today, are yours for the taking. For me, if we had lost Jewel, I’d have given just about anything to have another moment — another ordinary moment — with my furry friend to make just one more memory. As you can imagine, extrapolating my “canine crisis” into the human realm isn’t that much of a stretch, either.
The every day, then, can, in fact, be extra-ordinary. The seemingly mundane — sometimes profoundly impactful. Throw-away, garden-variety conversations — a potential lifetime of meaning and inspiration.
It’s worth remembering.
Oh, and take that damn CPR class.
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