The King of Sadness

“There is so little to remember of anyone – an anecdote, a conversation at a table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the peGander Dogrished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness not having meant to keep us waiting long.”

― Marilynne Robinson


My wife calls me the King of Sadness. She won’t read anything I write if she is not in a place where she can safely cry. While she sees the need for me to be cathartic and to give others permission to grieve the losses in their life by being honest about my own, she begs me to write more stories of joy and celebration. I think I do. Let me explain….

Today in the lobby of the hotel where we stay while I am receiving care at the VA, a long-term resident overheard me imploring the desk clerk and manager to look out the back door. There, autumn had gently pushed aside summer, the temperature was a perfect 65 degrees and the sun was burning away a sweet fog that had been gently communing with the pond around which Gander walks every morning.

The resident, who for as long as I have known him, has been full of anger and is known for being disgruntled and volatile and feared as mentally unstable. He has more than one sadly descriptive nickname. We parted ways after he once reached down in an attempt to strike Gander when he thought Gander might brush against him. He hates dogs and has fabricated stories to management in an attempt to get them banned from the hotel. If I thought he could be trusted with an animal, I think there is no human more in desperate need of a pet than this man.

Another guest asked our hotel curmudgeon today what everyone was going to look at outside. His reply: “Nothing. Just a little fog on the pond.” His disconnection from the beauty, only a few steps away, refreshed in me an understanding of things I had desperately needed to comprehend.

That “little fog” today, surrendered itself to a beautiful day, and took with it some of the pain and confusion I had been feeling. At the BMW Golf Championships yesterday, Gander and I were both emotionally and physically bruised when a crush of people eager to get an autograph from Tiger Woods pinned us against a retention fence. We were collecting the autographs on a flag to donate to Freedom Service Dogs to auction at their fund raiser this coming weekend. Tiger, afraid of the consequences of staying much longer stopped signing one person short of our position which we had staked out for almost two hours. We left the course almost immediately. On the way home I thought through my day. A few hours earlier, Phil Mickelson’s press agent had responded to my request to take a pic of him and Gander for an upcoming article about the PGA and wounded warriors by saying that Phil felt if he couldn’t take pictures with all vets he would take pictures with no vets. I was licking my pride induced wounds when I heard the news of the shooting in Washington. I quickly wrote a Facebook update: “The more I am around people, the more I love my dog.” My wife reported to me today that I kept her awake as I fought the demons of the day through a fitful night.

There was a book on the market several years ago entitled, The One Minute Meditator. At first glance you might react cynically and believe it to be a cheap pop culture attempt at mindfulness. Not so. In a country where TV news hopes to consume the better parts of our day with polarizing and demoralizing information; where we have lowered our heads six inches, below where it could be in appreciation of the beauty around us, in order to search for “likes” or another SMS; where a Phil Michelson, who makes more in a week than my father, a decorated hero who gave his life for his country made in a lifetime cut short by war, hasn’t time for a picture; where I have seen my government lower the flags to half-mast more in the last 13 years to honor those lost to mass murder than I saw it lowered the whole of the rest of my life in celebration of those who served us, it is important for us to start finding the pleasure in simple acts…

We would do well to drop what we are doing for a moment of silence, or to savor the taste of something delicious in our mouths, or to close our eyes for sixty seconds and let music translate the words our hearts desperately want everyone to understand, to watch a sunrise, or to stroke the fur of an appreciative pet….

How many suicides could be averted? How many could we lift out of depression? How many innocent souls could remain here on earth instead of being violently sent early on their journey to whatever awaits us beyond this life? To how many could we give a moment of pleasure before they are caught up again in the din and roar of a hurried, harried day of trivial pursuits we have come to believe are important?

This year I have watched closely as Gander created thousands of those kinds of meditative minutes. He was a conduit to all that is good in the here and now and to everything in need of remembering. He has provided a spiritual firewire, for me and hundreds of others he has not even met, needed to access the divine. He has facilitated smiles and goodwill in people worldwide. He has started the healing of many a broken spirit. How he has nurtured health in me and others is important: Often it starts with a memory and a moment of shared grief or loss. He reminds us of the dog that made their lives whole and the times and people that surrounded that period; he joins people with memories of a better time by taking them back to that place before somehow guiding them into the present and a celebration of what once was, maybe with the wag of a tail or an understanding kiss on the hand or cheek. Saul Bellow said, “Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.” We remember a time when we felt wanted, needed and important.

Grief and the sadness that goes with it are part and parcel of appreciating all that is good. They are travel companions much more comfortable with each other than we know. I have long thought that monsters willing to strike an innocent animal or discharge a lethal bullet in the direction of a stranger must have a monstrous sorrow so tightly constrained that there is little room in their hearts for anything but anger or rage.

I may well be the King of Sadness with Gander as my advisor: Some Merlinesque wizard who can summon the past and cast a spell that empties us of sorrow so we might appreciate, if only for a minute, the joys around us that never really left. I just provide food and shelter for this magical character. He makes us wise by example and allows us to sleep better at night, to be better to all creatures we will meet in our short lives. He helps stretch those meditative minutes into hours, days, weeks…..

I’ll sleep better tonight…










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  1. Mandy Adams says

    You, my friend, are an amazing person with an exceptional dog. I must agree with your wife. Sometimes your posts have me in tears. I think that it is a good thing though. I can easily cry for others but rarely for myself. I keep it all locked in and I truly believe it eats away at my soul. But to feel for others, to cry for others and their experiences helps me to purge my own pain. More often than not your posts and most definitely your pictures bring a huge smile to my face. He is a very magical furry little wizard. I too find salvation in my animals (2 cats, 2 dogs, a turtle). They are all rescues, but I swear they have done way more to rescue me than I them. Please, keep doing what you and Gander do. It makes such a big difference to so many lives. Much love to you both and your wonderful wife.

  2. Susan Hartzband says

    You and Gander represent all that is good and beautiful in life; even in woundedness you find beauty. The Phil Mickleson’s of the world may add a moment of excitement with their successes in golf or other games of life but they add nothing to the enduring love and friendship that can occur when people truly care and connect with each other. The world is truly full of sadness and grief but it is also full of love and beauty. Gander helps you find your way to that world, a lovely world and one which both of you so freely share with others. Yesterday, before the terrible news that came out of the Navy Yard, I was terribly disappointed to find one of my own heroes making very unkind statements about the new Miss America; I truly was crushed that someone I thought so full of honor and acceptance would make such a statement. But, our heroes are truly and deeply flawed, as are we. We just have to figure out a way to know our flaws and try to keep them restrained. Your one minute meditation is a way toward that end. May the rest of your day be one where you and Gander find a moment of beauty, of love and of joy in the world.

  3. Lynn Goldberg says

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I was greatly disappointed when you wrote about what happened with Phil Mickelson because, not only had I always thought he was a good guy, he has had his own share of sorrow with both his wife and mother being diagnosed with breast cancer. Now to hear what happened with Tiger Woods, I’m heartbroken for you. It seems the people who want to do something good are the ones who suffer. It’s like the old saying “Nice guys finish last.” I myself have stopped watching TV because I can’t stand the obsession with polarization, demoralization and negativity. Please continue to do what you’re doing – you and Gander have more supporters and people who care about you than you can begin to imagine!

  4. says

    OK I am crying tears….what a wonderful post so full of emotion! I understand putting it down into words – it all helps! DOGS are a gift from GOD I believe – you see the world through their sweet eyes and they show you unconditional love, happiness, joy and all that goes into the wag of their tail. YOU are an inspiration to all and it is so amazing to see how you and G have grown together! I will miss seeing you here in Colorado this Friday, but I know that the Diamond event will be a success! Enjoy it all….hug that pup for me!

  5. Jeanne Gensler says

    I agree! I’m doubtful that you could be so understanding if you did not have such a companion to show you the works! You are so lucky to have found a compatable soul to share the good/bad/indifferent in life! You brighten all of our days with your compassion, wit, and love, and we all wish to hear your voice, and see Gander’s pictures, as they make us understand how we should be,
    if we had your gifts!

  6. Linda LaPierre says

    After reading this I too will sleep better tonight surrounded by the healing powers of my two canine companions, who on a daily basis nourish and renew my faith in all things joyful and who sustain my belief that there is beauty to be found amongst all the sadness that confronts us. However, I cannot help but feel a sense of sadness and dismay that the curmudgeon at your hotel has not been able to let go of his anger and allowed himself the gift of such unbridled joy of being greeted and cherished by a four legged human disguised as a canine companion. Such a great loss for him.

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