broken patches of black and white, brown highlights here and there. We named him Oreo after the American cookie. He was a Belgian dog and had a European passport. He understood Dutch, English, and a little Pidgin English that he picked up from a Nigerian family in Italy with whom he would stay when we were gone. He never really got Italian.
Oreo was a Christmas dog. On Christmas morning when Ben was 8 years old he opened a letter addressed to him and his brother Luke telling them that Debbie and I were to get them a puppy. He shouted to his brother: “They have to get us a puppy. They have to do it. Santa says so.” And so began Oreo’s sojourn with us. He stayed with us as we moved from place to place—Belgium, Ohio, Italy, New York. He spent brief sojourns with my parents and Debbie’s parents as we made transitions. In this way he became integrated into our extended families. As we left homes and people and places behind, Oreo was a thread of continuity among us. In each new place and set of circumstances his insatiable capacity to receive and give affection was unaffected; he was always the same Oreo. He lent a dimension of constancy to our shifting lives.
As you can see, this is about more than the death of dog. He sat by as Luke and Ben learned to read and write in Dutch. He sat in the chair with us as we read to them. He walked to school to bring them home in the afternoon. He regularly attended services in our house church in Belgium, sleeping through the sermon but waking up for the last song; he was not alone in this. He swam off the beaches of Normandy and patiently waited outside the cathedrals of Italy. He suffered with us through hot Mediterranean summers and learned to navigate the snow of upstate New York. He soaked up every precious moment of Ben and Luke’s visits home during college breaks. Oreo was a witness to our lives. He carried the accumulated associations of the journey we have been on.I never really marked Oreo’s getting older until last Christmas when I was watching some home videos. I saw the difference between that young dog who seemed never to stop moving, interested in everyone and everything, and the still dog lying beside me on the couch. Lately he was sleeping more and attempting fewer leaps. We began hoisting him up on the couch and carrying him up the stairs at night; arthritis and too many treats were taking their toll. He was, however, still Oreo with his insatiable capacity to receive and give affection. His unchanging character had given the impression that he was eternal, that he would always be there.
Oreo's death marks the passage of time for me. It is as if all those places and people and experiences we have left behind are made afresh for just a moment in his death. The Buddhist priest Kenko wrote in his Essays in Idleness (1330-1033):
"If man were never to fade away like the dew...never to vanish like the smoke…but lingered on forever in the world, how things would lose their power to move us. The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty.”
Nothing in this world is eternal, no person, no place, no thing, not even Oreo in his unchanging character. That is why it all so precious; it will not last forever. Sometimes when I prayed, I would thank God for Oreo. I am still thankful but a bit sad too. He was, in all likelihood, the greatest dog that ever lived. It is just an objective observation based upon the evidence.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die (Eccl. 3:1-2).
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13).