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.