Ahead of me Owen runs back and forth, jumping a ditch and immediately jumping back, playing a game with rules only he knows. His tongue dangles from the side of his mouth and every now and then he turns to make sure that I am still there, following.
Back home, he darts from the orange ball to the green one and back again. He chooses one at random and races toward me. Unable to slow himself down, he slides to a halt 10 or 12 feet behind me. I walk toward him and reach for the ball; he eases slowly toward my outstretched hand and, just as I curl my fingers to pluck the ball from his teeth, he dashes.
He never gets tired of it and, apparently, neither do I.
Owen showed up at Sandhill on Halloween of 2017. My former law partner is named Hal, so Owen seemed an appropriate name choice. He practically house-trained himself and needed a leash for only a few weeks. He willingly jumps into the car and never complains about going to the vet.
Owen knows a lot of things. He knows the commands for “sit” and “wait.” He understands that “let’s go” said from the porch means that we are going for a walk and that “let’s go” said from anywhere else means that it’s time to head home. He knows that if he shows up at Daddy’s about 7:30 in the morning he’s bound to get a little leftover egg and bacon. He knows that before I turn off the light in the laundry room every night he is going to get a piece of duck jerky.
There are more pictures of Owen on my Instagram account than anything else. In fact, he has his own hashtag — #OWEdNesday — and every Wednesday I post a photo or video. His notoriety has grown so much in the two or so years since OWEdNesday was launched that he is now absolutely convinced that the big brown trucks and the big white ones with blue and orange letters on the side that come to Sandhill do so for the express purposes of scratching his neck and patting his head.
To be honest, there is nothing extraordinary about Owen. Except, of course, that he is Owen. He belongs to me as I do him. It is the way of dogs and humans.
There has not been a moment in the last year in which I have not been aware of the pandemic — its weight, its toll. To think of it on the anniversary of the date when the world shut down is to do so with some incredulity. How could it have been an entire year since we went to graduations and weddings and birthday parties with the innocence of children? How could 12 full moons have come and gone while we stayed inside? And how in the world shall we ever feel safe with each other again?
When Owen tires of chasing the balls, he simply folds his legs underneath himself and lowers his long face onto his front paws. He lifts his eyes toward me, a look I translate easily: “I don’t want to play anymore, but I will stay right here as long as you want.”
It occurs to me that Owen has no idea that the last year has been different, that my goings and comings have been curtailed, that I’ve missed out on anything. He longs for nothing. He has everything he wants, everything he needs.
I suddenly want to find that old leash and clip it onto his collar. I want to put him in the car and drive him into town, march him around the courthouse and up Savannah Avenue, down Gentilly and past the walking trail, in and out of Edgewood Acres and down Fair Road. I want everyone to see this creature, this beautiful creature who is living today exactly as he was one year ago.
I want to remind the weary among us, the grief-stricken in our ranks, the angry and faithless and forsaken that, while what we have lost is significant, what remains is significant, too. What remains are community and the common good, neighbors and neighborliness, sunrise and full moons, and, of course, the wisdom of dogs. Always.