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Happy Birthday, Murph….

Have you ever had the sensation that God is standing in front of you, staring you right in the eye? And did you dare stare back?

I suppose we’ve all had those moments of clarity, but we’re usually in a place in our lives where we don’t dare look back for fear that God will be able to see EVERYTHING and then we’ll be toast. (Smote ’em if you got ’em, boys!)

I just had this very sensation, but for once in my life I don’t feel afraid to engage in a staring contest. I totally get it  that God sees everything anyway, and is still willing to look ME in the eye…

Tomorrow I will go to the vet and learn that my dog Murphy’s cancer has  probably continued to spread. In March, they removed a cancerous mast cell tumor from her hind leg. They said they got it all, but I’m not so sure.

Murph turns 12 today and if my 3rd grade math skills still serve me, that’s 84 in dog years. As I was vacuuming the floor just now, grumbling under my breath about the oil stains from her coat that have turned our off-white carpeting dark gray in spots, I realize that I am beginning to say goodbye to her. In the past I’ve been secretly amused by the various stains she’s created, from the pond-mud that escapes inspection in her black fur to the horrific bile-piles she has emitted, always right in the high-traffic areas and usually in the middle of the night. Professional carpet cleaners just shake their heads and tell us that the harder they try to clean them up, the more they’ll just come to the surface. I’m not chuckling about this anymore. I am looking at these spots and realizing that they will soon be heart-breaking reminders of the greatest friend I’ve ever had.

I didn’t think we were even considering a dog when JM called and said, “Do you want a black lab puppy?” It was like an unplanned pregnancy, but since I am personally against ending one for myself, I said, “Of course we’ll take it”. Murphy was the last of her litter to be picked, so she was the default choice. We went to see her, and now when I look at the little 6-inch piece of ribbon that was her collar, with enough length left over to tie a bow, I can’t believe my 75-pound lug was once this little ball of black fluff.

I’ve had many pets in my life, mostly family pets, shared among many. But Murphy was my first “child”. She was the first pet that I considered to actually be my responsibility. There has been the requisite eye-rolling, yelling, corporal punishment — along with the snuggling, belly squeezing, and delight at her unabashed affection for people and other dogs. And she’s SO INTUITIVE! I could write a whole tome on the amazing things she’s done… and since there’s nothing worse than people gushing about their dogs, I’ll just say that she’s amazing.

But there is one area where I am truly seeing God through her. There is a person in my life with whom I’ve had conflict that makes me ashamed because I can’t seem to find real forgiveness. This woman is about Murphy’s age and also has cancer. She and Murphy spent some time together and my dog proved to have an excellent bedside manner as she sat beside her while she recovered from a broken wrist. Dementia has set in for the woman and the only thing she can remember about that time is Murphy’s presence. She does not remember the conflict that set our turmoil in motion. So Murphy remains our go-between. I send notes from “Nurse Murph”, and even sent a stuffed animal version of her with a home-made nurse’s cap for Christmas. She is the vehicle for my forgiveness because the human me can’t seem to offer it.

Nurse_Murph3So, I wonder who I’ll be without my sweet pup… Have I learned enough in Murph School to hold my own in the real world? Will I be unafraid to walk up to total strangers and metaphorically jam my way between their knees and demand a butt scratch? Will I still feel good about myself when I stink to high heaven from rolling around in the piles of poop that are the difficult spots in my life? Will I ever stop feeding on my own crap?? Will I feel okay about growling at the youngsters who push my boundaries too far, even if all I can offer as an apology is to go over to them later and offer to play tug with my favorite rope?

I heard again today that God can show us the way but it is our choice to follow it. It may well be that I lose the staring contest with God this time, but when I look into the eyes of my sweet faithful dog, I know that she will always be there between us, willing to act as a conduit for the hard things the human part of me can’t quite say or accept.

Happy birthday, Murph… If it’s your last, so be it. I don’t think you can possibly get closer to heaven…nor can I.

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  1. Anonymous
    August 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    great story Ellen. had a moment of emotion but you know me. I remember the fluff of Murph in that backpack way back when. I really like the way you write and Brenda wants to know if you have written your book yet. Happy Birthday old Murph. Love P n B and Louie

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