An Orbit Observed

Halley’s Comet never fails to orbit the sun.

Haley the Collie Mix never failed to orbit my parents’ house.

Yes, past tense. Darn it.


If you didn’t know Haley – well, you were probably in the majority. She was a beautiful but shy dog, one who made our own Duchess the Timid look like Robin Williams. How shy? The first time I met Haley, while I visited home on a Christmas vacation, it took about a week before I could pat her.

Did I say shy? More like scared. She had reason to be. Like most of my family’s animals, she was a rescue dog. She’d endured more by the age of 2 than any living thing should be asked, and had learned that the world could be a frightening place. Anyone who wasn’t my parents would hear the barking as they came in the front door, and then see absolutely no sign that a dog existed.

And then … a quick glimpse.

And another.

Quietly, Haley would circle the downstairs, moving from room to room, keeping her distance while finding out just who had invaded her house.

The orbit was under way.

It’s been about two weeks now since she left us. Probable liver cancer was the diagnosis. In any event, she was failing badly enough to prompt the hardest choice any pet owner has to make, the decision to love by letting go.

And even though it’s been two weeks, even though she kept herself at such a distance – she still floats through my mind sometimes, still offering little glimpses here and there, still staying in sight and out of reach.

Maybe that’s how it always is, even with the bolder and the braver.

Some people touch a lot of lives while they’re here. When I lived in Emporia, Kansas, it was folks like the Rev. Ralph Jackman, whose hands and heart turned up everywhere. Since moving back here, I could name many more, most recently Frank Kaven, the Martini’s Bistro co-owner who seemed to befriend an entire city.

And even with people that known, that loved, we find one more story we didn’t know after they pass. One more surprise. Something that reminds us that all we got were glimpses of a life, pieces that peeked out during an all-too-short time here.

It doesn’t make those memories worth any less. But it holds a powerful lesson for the living left behind.

Make those glimpses count.

Remember that you don’t know another’s whole life and they don’t know yours. Reach out with kindness and compassion for the hurts you may never see. Be patient and understanding for the reasons that may never be explained.

Think of the pieces of life you are showing, the bits of you that cross another’s orbit. What are they seeing? What are they believing because of what they see?

Treasure every moment of true sight, however small. Those glimpses form lives, loves, friendships – and eventually, memories.

They will not feel like enough. But they’re what we get to keep. A moment of blurry light crossing the sky, Halley’s Comet returned one more time.

My orbit was crossed by Haley’s all too few times. But in those times came a building of tentative trust. She never became outgoing – but she did reach a point where she would take food from me without fear.

Our small moments at a distance brought us near, ever so briefly.

May your own moments and memories bring you close now.

2 Replies to “An Orbit Observed”

  1. Wow, Scott, I think that was one of the best you’ve ever written.

    I wept as I read it, thinking the very same thoughts about people; having thought those same thoughts—how precious people really are, and how fast they potentially can vanish.

    A few years back we had an acquaintance who befriended us more intensely as he went through a painful divorce. He’d come over to our house, eat, visit, play games, or watch television with my husband, often falling asleep on the couch. We’d place a blanket over him, and he’d be gone in the morning—back to his empty home, or off to his truck-driving job. I thought it was just slightly odd, the whole thing.

    Then one day I got a phone call. He was in the hospital for impaired driving. Turned out he had a brain tumor, and we lost our friend in a matter of weeks.

    It hit me very hard with him, for some reason. I was thankful my family and I had reached out to this man in kindness and compassion, helping to ease his hurt, loneliness and pain, yet I still wished I would have spent just a little bit more time listening—talking—being a friend—being patient and understanding—getting to know and appreciate him just a little more.

    And I did miss him when he was gone, even the odd feelings of “What do I do with this man asleep on my couch??” He trusted us; found comfort in us. I can only hope I gave plenty of myself—kindness and compassion—to another human being in need.

    Sometimes we only get that slight orbit of a chance you mention. So important it is for us to see the beauty, the spark of divinity, in each individual that crosses or joins our orbit for a moment in time. We never know the duration of our concurrence, and it truly is important that we treasure every blessed, precious moment.

    Because, despite all our faults, people really are precious.

    Treasuring the orbits,
    Katherin Engelhard

  2. Thank you so much, Katherin. I always appreciate hearing your views and thoughts; they add so much to the conversation.


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