Maggie is 13 going on 14. Old for a golden retriever, with the failing hind legs to prove it. She is the only Golden Retriever ever that doesn’t smile. She’s melancholy by nature, with a frown that rarely turns upside down.
But when she feels joy she feels it intensely. She leaps into the ocean to chase thrown stones. She devours dog shit like a gourmand treasures a fine meal. And she loves her family. A loyal, sad dog who wants nothing more than to be by our sides. That saddens me, because I have so little time for her, the demands of family, work and life, usually dropping Maggie to last place on my priority list. I know that when she is gone I will mourn her. But on most days, if I’m honest, she brings me more frustration than happiness. Writing that makes me sad. She’s a good old girl who has been by my side through some tough times, a faithful companion at a time in my life when I didn’t want to be around people and just needed my dog.
I’m pretty sure Maggie was born that way. Sad. I got her when she was two. Attracted by a picture on the breeder’s website of the most miserable looking dog that I had ever seen. A dog that clearly needed a home. A Golden Retriever that needed to smile.
Maybe it’s appropriate Maggie came to me. We’re a lot alike. I’m melancholy by nature. Not depressed, but not happy either. Always conscious of the fragility of life, and the cruelties of this world.
Unlike Maggie I don’t chase stones in frigid water. I chase experiences instead. A good book, an invigorating run, bring me happiness. Although happiness might not be the right word. Because I might not smile when I read or run. But inside I feel fulfilled.
And like Maggie, I want to be around my family. That doesn’t mean I want to talk (to my lovely wife Sonja’s exasperation!). But being with them, in the house together, in the living room together, on the couch together, is the most satisfying thing I know. The closest I come to inner peace.
Fortunately, my greatest pleasure in life isn’t eating dog shit. But there is something special about seeing Maggie eat crap. Because for her it is pure joy. And pure joy, sheer happiness, is not something any of us see, or feel, often in this world.
Since September, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing pure joy every week. My daughter Molly started dance lessons. She loves every second of it. This three-year old girl has thrown herself into the world of First Position, Pirouettes, and Le Grand Jete. It’s her passion. Not one that we have thrust upon her, but one that she clearly and instinctively feels she must do. And on Saturday mornings, Sonja and I stand on the other side of a large pane of glass and watch her and her classmates dance. Two, three and four year-old children, jumping and spinning for no other reason than the sheer joy of it. Watching Molly, watching these kids, has become the highlight of my week. One of the highlights of my life.
Molly might not exist if it wasn’t for Maggie. I met Sonja on an online dating sight. I’d posted a picture of me and Maggie. Sonja messaged me saying that my dog was cute. I responded “That’s Maggie. She eats poo.”
Maggie is asleep right now. In the corner, on her dog bed. Molly and Sonja are in the kitchen making pancakes. I’m on the couch. Smiling. Feeling very fortunate to have a sad dog. My Maggie. She and I have a lot in common.
And look … Maggie can smile.