… on a letter to the first owner of my second-hand dog

Dear Sir,

Firstly, I’m so sorry for the anonymous nature of this salutation. It’s just that I don’t know your name.

My name is Lisa Dingle, and I adopted your Bella nearly a month ago. I wanted to reach out and let you know she is doing fine.

I know so little about your life, just the pieces that folks who cared enough to check on you could piece together.

I know you were a relatively young man.

That you had a wooden porch warmed by the Oklahoma sun.

And I know that you left this world far too soon.

I also know that you raised a great dog… the one that is now laying at my feet, looking up at me, munching on a squeeky, stuffed hotdog.

I was told that she didn’t want them to take you from the home you shared together.

And that the neighbor, who watched her for the few days after they did, could not seem to stop her from escaping his house to run back to your porch, where she waited for you to come back.

I also learned that her name really was ‘Bella’ – that it wasn’t given to her by those who took care of her in the days and months between your death and when she came to me.

I want you to know that we shortened her name to Belle when she came to us, thinking she’d only been called Bella for a short time. But that, when I was told her name had always been Bella, we simply maine-ized it to Belle-ah (fits in better with the way we talk here – as in lobst-ah, chowd-ah, oyst-ah (I could go on)). She doesn’t read very well, so I don’t even think she notices. ‘Belle’ is now a nickname, as is ‘Belly’, ‘Belle-ah Blue’, and ‘Silly Little Girl’. She seems to answer to them all, but it will be ‘Belle-ah’ stamped onto her new dog tag.

So… random thoughts have been ping ponging, in slow motion, around my brain lately.

I don’t know who you were during your time on this big blue spinning orb.

Not who you loved, or who loved you back.

Whether you were soft, or gruff.

Don’t know if you knew success, in whatever way you defined it…

Or if we would have been friends had we’d ever had the chance to meet.

Also drifting in and out of my mind for the last few days has been this poem – or maybe it’s an essay – that I’ve always loved. It’s one I use as a guide, and am most successful following it in the moments I am fully present for all life’s wonders.

It is a piece often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I will use the version credited to him here. But the original may have been written by a Mrs. Bessie Stanley of Lincoln County, Kansas, and published in the Kansas Gazette in 1905. I’m still investigating that one. You don’t know me, but I tend to Google.

A lot.

This is the piece that’s been on repeat in my mind…

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

I want you to know that I hope you laughed often and much.

I hope you won the respect and affection of even one person, at least one child (and they let you know it).

I hope honest critics appreciated you for who you were, and that you didn’t have to endure the betrayal of very many false friends.

I hope you found beauty in the world, and in your fellow human beings.

I have no way of knowing if any of these things I wish for you ever happened.

But I do know this.

You left the world a better place… not necessarily by a healthy child or garden patch or redeemed social condition (I have no way of knowing those things)… but by the raising of, and caring for, a good dog.

In my book, that’s a pretty big deal.

I also know that I am breathing easier because you did that (love has that effect).

So I thank you, and yours, for your life. And for this dog who has come into mine.

I promise to take care of her, and to love her, and to laugh and dance and sing with her.

And I promise to never forget that you were her first Person.

And that you left behind this beautiful, wonderful, gift…

Of my second hand dog.

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