It was raining. A perfect evening for a movie. But not just any movie. The one I had been postponing since reading my son’s text, “…cried for two hours…he was my best friend.”
Yes, The Art of Racing in the Rain.
If my son, Davis, was finally mourning the dog’s death a year and a half later because he had been living in Oregon at the time, perhaps I had yet to do so myself.
Ten years ago, on a similar rainy, but winter night, I had been reading Garth Stein’s book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, about a Golden retriever named Enzo, on which the movie would eventually be based.
I was seated in the family room on the cushy chair with Mark, my husband of four years, and maybe a kid or two also in the room. We were a blended family by then, and the kids were always going on about getting a dog. Cheryl, Shannon and Kaitlyn’s Gipper, a cocker spaniel, had died a few years before we had become an official family. I didn’t want to hold their needs and desires at arm’s length, nor Davis’ for that matter. But I had my own to consider.
My parent’s were aging. I was living away from them. My sister’s alcoholism was spiraling out of control. She was in and out of Cincinnati, Tennessee, Florida. Her daughter was in and out of the cars and households. And my children were busy in and out of high school and college. Everything was wrapped into those bouncing balls of life, and I spent my days trying to juggle all those balls. I didn’t need one more ball to throw and hope that a dog might fetch it for me.
I closed the cover of the hardbound book, looked over at Mark and said, “Okay, if we’re getting a dog, I get to name him and his name will be Enzo.” I had named him into existence.
I used to think the character of the dog in the book was what inspired me most at the time. Many months later, after I recommended the book, wished to read it again, or anxiously waited for the movie to be released, a certain wisdom arose in me as easily as it came to Enzo in the book. The emotional tug I felt from reading the book was never about the dog.
It was about me. I realized the power of the dog that could have provided comfort when I lost my first husband, when Davis lost his dad. Mark and the girls lost Susan to cancer. They had Gipper for a time but felt his loss deeper thereafter.
The story contained so many elements that were universal, and so many others that those touched by death and grief could relate to. But one stood out. Our losses can be motivating, if we keep our eyes on the road ahead of us.
Weeks afterward, we found our Enzo, in northern Ohio, which accounted for his stubbornness — and his warmth.
After we officially welcomed Enzo into the family, our life continued to fill with joys and heartache. We witnessed my sister’s continued downward plummet. My father’s Parkinson’s and death. My mother’s dementia. The milestones of graduations and new jobs and missteps we made as a stepfamily, as individuals to one another, and in our own lives. Enzo was there through it all. Enzo was there for me through it all.
Nine years later, Enzo died. His death occurred weeks before my mother died. Weeks before our last one, Davis, graduated from college and decided to continue living out of state, as the rest of our children had done.
Our Enzo had served his time well.
A dog is like a living memoir, meant to stand for a period in our lives when we are learning a lesson. Enzo’s life was a bookend to my own, and encapsulated a snapshot in time when happenstances whirled around and around me, and Enzo stood at the center, always with a wagging tail and earnest desire for love.
I never pictured Enzo as the running dog, the racing dog, though we certainly tried when he was a puppy. His heart murmur would never have allowed him to go far. Instead, he had an interior perseverance I am still invoking today. He persisted in loving. Until the very end, when he died in my arms.
“After a dog dies, his soul is released into the world around us. His soul is released to run in the world, run through the fields, enjoy the earth, the wind, the rivers, the rain, the sun, the — when a dog dies, his soul is released to run until his ready to be reborn,” says Enzo, in the book and movie.
The movie did just that. It brought Enzo back for me — if only for a moment. To love the dog he was. To mourn not just his life, but the boisterous life in our family home that he represented. It is quieter now, and we have many more moments that reflect the ending of the movie as Denny and Zoe pursue their dreams.
Reflecting on a dog’s life is the human way we measure our own. With the echoes of Enzo always resounding through our lives, I live for the moments when I will recognize his rebirth. I will feel him. I will know Enzo in the same way I knew him before he was born.