No, I am not talking about Atticus Finch. Although, he too has some valuable lessons, especially for young lawyers. I am talking about our dear friend and canine law partner, Atticus. Unfortunately, we lost Atticus a couple of weeks ago to a spinal cancer. He was stoic and brave to the end.
Dogs in general, and Atticus in particular, are Zen masters of beatific living. Whether we were gone for 10 minutes or 10 days, Atticus was overjoyed upon our return. He loved every human he ever met and nearly every animal. He did not like a snake. I think he was hard-wired that way. He even liked the bears of Western North Carolina. The cubs looked a bit like him so I suspect he saw them as playmates.
Atticus was quick to forgive. He never held a grudge. He had an innate sense for when one of his humans was in distress. We had a dear friend over one time who began feeling faint. We had him lie down on the floor. Rather than his typical, excited playfulness, Atticus lay down next to our friend with his small body pressed against our friend’s legs. He knew.
Atticus taught me the beauty of a morning walk in the cool mountain air. He taught me to listen mindfully, with childlike curiosity. Those meditative morning walks allowed me to start the day refreshed and receptive.
Atticus taught me about the importance of some things and the insignificance of other things. The love and comfort of another creature who loves you wholeheartedly is a precious gift. It must be nurtured and appreciated. Everyday frustrations and perceived slights are not worth the mental and emotional energy. Better to take a walk with a dog who understands these things.
Finally, Atticus taught me the poignant lesson of goodbye. His tumors were inoperable. He was becoming paralyzed, and he was in pain. The light in his eyes had dimmed, as if to tell me, “It’s curtain time. I am ready to go now.” Don’t get me wrong, letting go is hard. But, Atticus assured me in his wise and quiet way, that I was doing the right thing.
I imagine him on four strong and bouncy legs reuniting with Cheyenne and meeting Angel, Cheyenne’s predecessor. “Hey, Atticus. Smell this. Squirrel Squirrel, chase!” Atticus taught me to be a better human. For that I say, “Thank you, dear friend, and so long.”