I hate loss. All dogs do. We don’t even like it when our humans leave home for a few hours, locking us in. But that’s because we’re so afraid you’re not going to come back! Ever!
And what we hate worst is when someone doesn’t come back. When we lose someone we love, never to see them again.
In some cases, that includes missing the music of their laughter, or even the charm and beauty of their face. But not always. Sometimes we can lose someone who made the worst sounds, and looked, well, kinda ugly. And that loss can hurt just as much, if not more, because in those cases all we felt for them was love. Pure love.
That was my wonderful friend Dilla.
I met Dilla when he was left to stay “for just a little while” at my neighbors’ home. Their son and his girlfriend had adopted this little pup, but then broke up, so neither had a place to keep him anymore. The son knew his parents were great dog lovers (And oh they are! Handsome sometimes worries I love them even more than him! I don’t, but I am crazy about them, and just adore making him worry about it!), and figured they’d take good care of him till he was able to get a place of his own that would accept dogs.
Well, you’ve probably heard that old line about “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it!”?
That young man’s parents fell so hard in love with Dilla – and he with them – that, by the time he had an appropriate home, it was too late. Dilla was theirs and they were his, and he would only be able to see his pup on visits from then on!
Now all this sounds pretty normal, right? We dogs attach easily, and our hearts are big enough to hold more than just one person or household inside.
What wasn’t normal was Dilla.
This was a family that had always had, and loved, big beautiful dogs. Labrador Retrievers and such – noble beasts who can protect you, hunt with you, and wrestle with you with joy and gusto. Dilla was maybe a sixth their size, with tiny delicate feet at the end of his spindly legs, so everyone had to be extra-careful in petting him. His body wasn’t a long lean runner’s figure like mine; his was more… well, his people usually referred to it as a “lima bean.”
And his face? Well, that’s where things get more serious. To most people’s eyes, Dilla’s was as ugly a mug as exists. Big eyes bugging diagonally, a shoved-in nose, and a mouth all full of fleshiness, with a tongue that stuck out the side. Handsome described his look as “Like someone ripped the wings off of a bat!” Could anyone love such a face?
Everyone did. At first sight.
Why was that? Sure he was a sweet, playful pup, but there was more to it. Dilla’s homeliness brought out a squeeze in the hearts of everyone who met him. While a Maltese or Pekinese might look more pretty, it was Dilla who everyone always wanted to pick up and hug. As if, maybe, just the right hug could bring out the beauty in the beast. (But no, none ever did!)
Now, there’s a lot people can learn from Dilla. Sure, all humans love beauty. But they love the beautiful in a mixture of awe, respect, and desire. Beauty isn’t endearing. (You don’t look at a photo of Selena Gomez or the Hemsworths and feel “awwwwwww.” But you might at a shriveled little old man with a walker!). What made Dilla endear so much was how true he was to himself, and how much he accepted his appearance. He didn’t pull back and ask if you thought he was good-looking enough; he ran to you, snorted, licked you out of the side of his mouth, and dropped a drooly toy into your lap, demanding you play with him.
(Handsome says, in his book about me, that one of my strengths is that I know how to “Initiate Play.” But Dilla demanded it! An at-least equal strength!)
A beautiful rose in a garden sits there, waiting for you to see and appreciate it. A beautiful woman or man at a bar might do the same. But Dilla’s energy didn’t allow for that – it exploded at you, taking you over, changing you, winning you into his world of growling pretend fury (he was not one to cheerfully fetch a ball and ask you to toss it again; he would roar at the ball, then tug-of-war with you before letting you have it, and then bark at you to throw it – everything gruff, everything adorable – and I have no words for the ways he would pretend-fight with his original best-human-friend. Imagine raging violence with no actual harm done, all pure love – that’s about as well as I can describe it). His fury was love, and his love was furious. And when he was done with you, you were the same way!
Dilla lived a full and joyous life, loved by all. Unlike so many of us, he wasn’t felled by cancer or an accident; he kept snorting and growling and chasing till one day his body just gave out. He’d gone blind and deaf, and was sleeping almost all day, but still his spirit never faltered.
And soon after he went, it rained. It rained in Southern California in August. Please understand, it NEVER rains in Southern California in August! In the middle of a drought, no less!
Some may say it was the angels weeping for Dilla. But I say no – it was Dilla laughing, peeing on all the trees everywhere, making mud when no one expected it, maybe even making some people slip and mess up their clothes.
With the message he always gave: Be yourself so passionately that even your ugly is beautiful. Love so strongly you make others love what you do. And furiously grab life for all you can.
Good night my beautiful friend. And thank you.