I want to introduce you to two friends of mine– Joe and Muppet. They shared the most profound of moments with me this weekend, and in so doing, have me thinking about the magnitude, potential, and pain that comes when we let ourselves love deeply.
Joe is a lifelong friend of mine. We met in 8th or 9th grade, and despite us being very different, I loved him. He was part of my family and and we were good friends for a long time. At some point, as often happens, we drifted apart. In part, this happened because Joe needed to learn what it meant to love himself. To be worthy of being loved.
When Joe came back into my life, he was accompanied by a new four-legged friend. His name is Muppet. Muppet is a beagle with soft brown eyes and a beautiful loving demeanor. From the moment Muppet came into the world, he was intended to be not a beloved and sweet house pet to be played with and loved, but instead, he was born to be experimented on.
A lot of people don’t know this, but beagles are used often for experimentation. They are often debarked, and the very docile nature that makes them wonderful pets also makes them compliant subjects. Their ears are tattooed with a number and they are kept in cages, never to touch grass at their feet. They are subjected to a lifetime bereft of love and kindness, and when their purpose has been fulfilled, they are exterminated.
But some lucky few are rescued in the darkness and rehabilitated in foster homes until they find their loved person. The person who will care for them, with their flaws and broken hearts, forever. For Muppet, that person was Joe.
So when Joe emailed me several years ago after years of having not had any contact at all, and asked if I would like to attend a benefit for the organization that rescued his Muppet, I said yes, and invited them both to stay with me. As a result, I partially credit Muppet for bringing Joe back into my life. They are both valued and much loved members of my family again.
I also partially credit Muppet with saving Joe’s life.
What I didn’t know when Joe re-entered my life, is that he was suffering. His heart and spirit were broken, and he was struggling to figure out how and why to live, and he was unable to see how healthy and good his life could be, if only he could get it back on track. Muppet was with him all the while, a beacon of love and faith and energy. He was always there, watching Joe and, I believe, always hoping and believing that Joe could find his way if only he could find the love in himself…in this way, Muppet and I were kindred spirits.
I tell you all of this because Joe did save his own life. With humility and intention, he found purpose and love and spirit. He laughs authentically and often. He gives of himself. I always used to say that I loved Joe more than he loved himself, but I am delighted to say that this simply is no longer true.
Love is this thing that we think of, and as a culture have such a narrow view of. It takes love to rescue an animal, or to stand up for what you believe in, or to be present in this life at all. On Valentine’s Day in particular, it is a day of romantic love and relationships. But what I propose, is that this is simply the tip of the iceberg. As Rebecca Solnit so beautifully said, “there are so many things to love… so many things that need love, so much other work love has to do in the world.”
On Saturday afternoon, bathed in sunlight and surrounded by people who loved him, Muppet breathed his last breath in this world. Having declined over the last couple of weeks, and with tumors in his sinus cavity, Joe made the nearly impossible decision to let him go. This too, is an act of love. In some ways, the most profound. When all is right and good and happy, love is easy. We want those we love to stay with us forever. But sometimes love means giving them permission to move on, to let their suffering end, and to let the loss hurt as much as it will.
I really believe that love is at it’s richest and most meaningful when things are not easy at all. When we are confronted with challenges, when we need to help heal others as well as ourselves. The challenges are opportunities–to help our hearts grow, to expand our perception of love and what it can do.
Muppet spent the first half of his life in a lab. Deprived of love and affection, he survived with 39 other beagles who made a journey across the ocean to find their loved people. Muppet found Joe, and he had a lot of work to do. I am not sure how his spirit remained intact, so capable of giving and receiving love, but it did. And for the second half of his life, he was a loyal and generous friend to a man who needed love without boundaries or conditions. They saved each other.
For Muppet, I wish you safe travels and love wherever it is that your spirit lands. I am grateful for you in our lives. For Joe, I wish you healing and love. For anyone reading, I hope you think about love and how the red hearts and romantic dinners are but a tiny corner of how expansive and transformative love can actually be.