On Saturday afternoon at around 4 p.m. my wife, Ann, and I completed a quick round trip to Detroit. We saw the family of Ann’s sister, but that was a highlight rather than the purpose of the trip. The purpose was to pick up my wife’s birthday present from her sister, the veterinarian.
The gift has a name, and that name is Hope. Hope is six pounds of fur and affection. An Australian shepherd mix born at the end of March, Hope is the second dog who has been a part of our family, and she, like our dog Murphy before her, came during a time of crisis in our land.
Murphy, also a gift from Dr. Julie, arrived on our doorstep late on the Friday evening of September 14, 2001. Earlier that week, in a phone call checking to see how everyone was doing after the events of 9/11, Julie mentioned that she had a rescue dog that seemed perfect for our family. With emotions running high, and amidst stories coming from NYC about pets whose owners never came home that Tuesday evening, we decided that the time was right for a dog.
From the moment I was handed the leash with a 70 pound chocolate Labrador retriever on the other end I knew that we had received a gift of incomparable worth. Murphy was brought to Julie’s clinic to be put down. Other than some fairly serious, and relatively correctable, joint issues, Murphy was in perfect health. Julie asked the owner to sign the dog over to the clinic, and for the next thirteen years Murphy was an essential member of our family.
It has been six years since we had to euthanize Murphy, and in the intervening years we have talked about getting a new dog, but were never really motivated to make that commitment. Yet now, when we should be easing into late middle age, we are running around the dining room table being chased by the cutest 10-week-old puppy we have ever seen. What on earth were we thinking?
As I looked to the ultimate reason behind our two life-changing choices to take a dog into our home, I have been inclined to turn to my philosophical roots. Over and over again a phrase from the French Catholic philosopher-mathematician Blaise Pascal kept coming back into my head: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”
This phrase describes the subtle, often overlooked, aspect of our most important life-choices – the yearnings of the human heart. As with the choice to get married or to have children, there is never a “perfect” or “ideal” time to get a dog. Those who use reason and a T-chart to make such decisions will always be stuck at square one. Those who look to their heart will have a reason to take that leap of faith into the unknown, but always with a sense of hope (pun intended) that we are not alone. The Lord and Master of History will guide us through this and all of our decisions, especially when made with a sincere and humble heart.
The emotional surge of 9/11 brought Murphy to our door and we can’t now imagine our lives without him. Amidst the unsettling events of the past months, and especially the past weeks, it is no surprise that a photo of a little puppy, sitting quietly by herself while her nine siblings where producing mayhem, caused us – and especially my wife Ann, who also was the catalyst for Murphy’s entry into our lives – to move the needle from “reason” to “heart.”
We had no role in the naming of Murphy – he came to us too late, but we did give Hope her name. At the time we decided on her name it just seemed right, and others who heard of our choice confirmed our feeling. But since bringing her home we are more than convinced of the fitting nature of her name, both for her and for all who meet her. The crowds of children, and adults, who have spent time in our yard petting and playing with her have made me, as one neighbor noted, the most popular guy on the street.
And I know why. We live in a world seemingly cut off from its moorings. Everyone wants an anchor, something to hold on to in precarious times. And that anchor, both as a theological virtue and as a puppy, has a name: Hope.