Lesson #9: Sometimes, even if you haven't acted perfectly, the good thing happens after all.
But it bought me way more than one of those afternoons. As of this minute, the care and love and expertise that the doctors at the UC Davis vet hospital and his follow-up-care doctors at the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado have given him is two years and seven months of life that statistically he should not have had.
There are days when I think he stays alive just because he has more to teach me, that he doesn't trust me on my own yet, that he worries I'll go back to my closed-up, shut-down, selfish, and terrified pre-Dante ways. Sometimes I think he stays alive for his pen pal Meaghan, so that she knows she can stay alive, too. Sometimes I think he stays alive because he knows how magnificent he is. A big old Irish Wolfhound, minus one shoulder blade and all that attaches, cantering lightly across the pasture at sunset, a living miniseries about getting the most out of every day.
But sometimes I think he's alive because, in spite of everything I was told about the world, in spite of the house I grew up in and all of its large and tiny terrors, every now and then goodness is allowed to shine through. Even if I don't act perfectly. Even if I don't hold my breath for all eternity. Maybe Dante is still alive simply because he is good, and because I try to be good, and because we love each other so much, and somebody somewhere thinks we deserve a little more time to live in that love together.
I grew up believing that if I admitted I was hoping for something, the thing I hoped for would be swept away. And so I always prepared for the worst, and kept my hopes in the closet. Which is a terrible way to live, a terrible way to keep oneself from living.
Dante's life after cancer was the first really important thing I've allowed myself to hope for out loud, that I've dared even to pray for, and the fact that it came true is trying to turn that hope into something like belief, something like faith and gratitude. Faith enough to brave the vows of marriage. Gratitude enough to let a Wolfhound sleep all over the bed.