Yesterday our family made the hardest decision concerning our most loyal friend who always gave us unconditional trust and love.  We put down our dog Clancy who unbeknownst to us was suffering from a fast spreading cancer.  His condition deteriorated quickly over the last few days and an emergency run to the veterinarian revealed the deadly diagnosis. He never came home again.  His mind remained sharp and his spirit never faltered right to the end but his body gave out on him.  It was the right thing to do, but that knowledge provides little comfort.

Please indulge my conceit that yesterday was a very bad, no good day.

To some, grieving for just a dog makes little sense given the suffering of children under relentless bombing in Syria, war in Afghanistan, or the mass exodus of a million refugees from Venezuela.  But he wasn’t “just a dog.”  He came into our lives twelve years ago during one of the most stressful periods of our family life and daily brought us joy and put a smile on our faces.  During his lifetime he had two major surgeries that took weeks of recovery and of course the final outrage of cancer.  Not once in his lifetime did we hear him whimper or cry.  Never.  Even as the vet told us yesterday that he must have been in great pain from the cancer and resulting tumor.  He always tried his best to please us and to make us happy.  And he did exactly that.

I have owned dogs most of my life.  This one was special.  I always gave him the highest canine compliment that I know — he was a good dog.

Not that he was perfect.  No dog is.  He could be very stubborn.  But in nearly every case, he came through in the end.  He was a great traveler, having made two round trips across the country by car.  He visited more than a dozen national parks throughout the nation.  In a lot of ways he was lucky to have us and he had more adventures than many people.  So many adventures over the years.  Unfortunately, the numbers of adventures large and small dwindled as the years caught up to us. But he was always game to try, even if his body could not respond to what his mind was telling him he wanted to do.  His last adventure was last week when he went on a walk with my wife down to our community beach.  He loved the water and loved going down there.  Little did we know that would be the last time as on the following day, his condition started to concern us.

All he really wanted was to be with his “pack” (our family) and to go in the car.  He was always up for a “road trip” be it running errands around town or heading out on a month-long excursion.  Oh, and maybe a little tuna juice on his dog food.  He had a sixth sense about those cans — he would show up in the kitchen at the mere sound of a can coming out of the pantry.  But only tuna cans.

He was the sheriff of our quiet street.  Anyone or anything that came near would hear the loud barking of an obviously big dog.  It was his sacred duty to keep an eye on things and to alert us to anything that was “different.”  But once a visitor entered our doorway, he had a new best friend forever.

His life with us began and ended the same way.  He picked us out as his family as a six month old puppy when we were visiting the county pound.  As we walked by his run, he got down on his side and reached under the gate to stick his paw out to try to touch us.  It worked.  When we took him home he was literally skin and bones. He was abandoned on the streets prior to arriving at the pound and had a tooth and jaw problem that made eating painful.  We should have paid closer attention to his feet, which were nearly the size of a baseball.  Once a dentist fixed his teeth and he could eat without pain, that scrawny pup turned into a 120 pound muscled specimen.  But a big dog without a mean bone in his body. If it is possible for a dog to have a kind soul, he had one.  Putting out a paw and touching was his trademark throughout his life.  He always put that paw out to touch anyone that pet him.  As humans do, I turned that into a series of “shake” and “say hello” and other routines that entertained kids when they came to visit.  He never failed to deliver.  His last act before quietly and gently leaving us was to reach out his paw and touch my hand.

He was a good dog.  Farewell my friend.


What a Great Country!

As we wake up on the morning after one of the most divisive campaigns in our life times, some of us are elated, some disappointed and a lot of us are probably simply amazed at the results.  Whatever we feel, as is our custom and history, it is time to move on and actually get things done.

Yesterday I had a big dose of what is best about our country.  I was a sworn election judge in the state of Maryland.  Other states may have other titles, or you may simply know us as poll workers.  It was a great civics lesson and a great lesson in what makes this country continue to be great.

It was a very long day (nearly 15 hours on the job) but a very positive day.  Election judges in Maryland are regular citizens who come forward every two years to work for their country and for their fellow citizens.  They cover the spectrum of our national make up.  Young (one can be a judge at 17) and old, from every ethnic group and socio-economic status, and of differing political parties, the judges are a true cross-section of America. Throughout our training and while on the job, each and every person I met was courteous, friendly, conscientious and dedicated to doing the job correctly.  It was inspiring.

I can also assure our fellow citizens that the election judges on the job, at the individual polling places, are serious about the importance of their work and that they took joy in doing the job the right way.  I can also assure you that both the polling process and those working on site are dedicated to allowing for each and every qualified citizen to vote.  It is a great, and dare I say, satisfying process.

Even as the day wore on and we all began to sag a bit in body, there was never a let down in spirit or determination to do things correctly, by the book, and in compliance with the law.  It may surprise a voter who has not had this opportunity to know the meticulous way that the process unfolds. Maryland uses paper ballots that are electronically scanned.  There are three ways that they can be counted and compared and the paper ballots are retained in case of a recount or an anomaly in the electronic tabulation.   There are written procedures followed meticulously that include keeping track of each and every ballot, with double and triple checks and balances and total chain of custody requirements.  Every scrap of paper (ballots, multiple forms for record keeping, and polling material) are accounted for, catalogued and returned to the Board of Elections.  Every two years, these workers take time off from school, work, retirement or whatever to serve their fellow citizens and to help them through the process. It was a good sign for the future of our nation.

Equally gratifying was to work with and observe the voters that came into our precinct to vote.  Just as the workers represented a cross-section of our nation, so did the voters in every way imaginable. That includes the processes to ensure the visually impaired, physically challenged, and just about every other condition imaginable was able to cast their ballot.  Uniformly, the voters were cheerful, excited about exercising their right to vote (even if not uniformly excited about the campaigns themselves), and demonstratively appreciative of the work being done by us at the polling place.  In a particularly memorable way, whenever a young person came in and was identified as a first time voter, the judge working with them would announce it to the rest of us and all of the judges (there were about twelve of us) would shout and clap in congratulations.  The smiles on those first time voters when we did that was priceless.  In a campaign season that did not always highlight the best of our nation, it was exciting and refreshing to see that the voters, our neighbors, were understanding of how little acts of courtesy and kindness can transform a situation.

As we move forward into somewhat uncharted territory in our nation’s history, my hope is that the values, spirit and cooperation that I observed on election day continue as we move on to the next great adventure in our national life.


This Is Your Life

Have you ever had your life flash before your eyes? I have. Well not exactly “flash” if that means you are in danger and in an instant you remember all the things that you’ve done and should have done.

My “flash” took place over the course of about a week. And I wasn’t in danger. Let me explain.

I’m a hoarder. Not the kind that will ever get his own reality show or that you will read about in the morning paper when the police finally have to knock down my door to save me from myself. No. I’m the kind that collects files, especially personal files such as bills, cancelled checks, receipts that go with tax returns, that kind of thing. Oh. And notes and cards. And maybe key pieces of paper from volunteer Boards and Committees that I’ve served on. I’ve learned that there is really nothing that doesn’t come back around again and it helps to not have to re-invent everything every time. If I throw it away I’ll probably need it. (And please remember that I’m sooooo 20th century.) But sooner or later, reality — not a TV show, but the real thing — catches up to you and you realize that those cancelled checks from 1980 probably aren’t necessary anymore.

So I decided to clean out old files and get rid of everything. Well almost everything, some things you really do need to keep for future reference. Realizing that this is the 21st century and that much of it can and will be used against me if found by the wrong person, I needed to shred everything that I was throwing away. You would be surprised what additional personal information was collected in the “old” days before everything was automated and you could actually rely on the neighborhood banker or business not to sell your information.

Shredding checks takes a long time and is terribly boring as well. As a result, I actually started looking at specific pieces of what I was shredding. A big mistake, I know, efficiency experts really would not approve. What I found was that the events of my adult life could be traced by those checks. Who they were made out to and where they were written sent me careening down the road of my past. Fortunately, it was about 98% positive. But it was all there. Courting and marrying my wife. Establishing our first home. The travels that we took. Moving around the country as job requirements dictated. The birth of my son. The many schools that he attended and the subsequent school events we supported. Dealing with reliable child care or after school care. Sports (his and mine). Family vacations. Splurges. All of it there and it was an amazing, untapped, unknown accounting of nearly every key event in my life.

A mind-numbing process as much as could ever be turned into a pleasant and nostalgic review of the highlights of my life so far. A surprise and a lesson in taking in and enjoying the little tasks that pop up with unexpected treasures.