Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Will's Victory

"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places." ~ Ernest Hemingway

I don't agree with Hemingway.  I used to, and I'd like to be able to agree with him, but after fifty-one years I've seen too many who were broken and stayed broken. I've seen too many who stayed down on the mat after getting knocked down because they didn't want it to happen again.  I've seen others stop living and barely get by hoping the hurt would stop and the world would leave them alone.  I've seen them climb inside a bottle, swallow pills, or build walls to keep out the pain and in the process forget the gift of life - and more importantly - the understanding that it's a journey and if you're going to get anywhere you have to keep on moving.

Thankfully, animals are not people.  I believe we're as resilient as they are, we may just not be as innocent and our faith can be far more tattered.

Over the past four weeks I've witnessed the resilience of one little dog.  When he arrived in our lives Will was lost, abandoned, angry, frustrated, mostly blind and deaf, with hips so sore he had a difficult time doing much of anything.  He'd strike out in frustration with his flashing teeth.  He didn't want to be touched all that much and he hated being picked up. 

The world had broken Will.  He was left in pieces. Then he was left on his own.

I've had it easy with Atticus.  We are like a happily married old couple who know each other so well there's little we have to think about.  We go through life together moving as effortlessly as two graceful dancers. But Will is a different story.  He takes a great deal of thought, things I never have had to consider with Atticus. He's a puzzle that's been taken apart and it's been our job to put him back together again.  Actually, it's been his job, we just give him the support to do so.  If you asked me how we do this I would be hard pressed to give you a short, concise answer.  It's a hundred different things that, I suppose, add up to one main thing.  We've allowed Will to live again.  We've allowed him dignity and the ability to grow and continue on his journey.

I will not pretend to know the life that Will led for fifteen years before he met us, I just know what I have seen in him. I see the damage. I see the fragments.  The neglect.  But now I've also seen him grasp at a new chance to live again - to love again.  He's found a home just when he'd been thrown out of his own.

I'm under no illusion that Will can be transformed into something he's not.  He will not climb mountains.  Not real ones anyway.  Instead we'll simply allow the latest member of our family to be what he wants to be. 

On Friday Atticus and I went for a two mile walk, later took a five mile hike over Hedgehog, and finished the day with a three mile walk.  That same day Will got outside into our yard numerous times.  When there, he often just stands and stares off into the distance.  With those cloudy eyes of his I have no idea what he sees or if he's just contemplating something.  Maybe it's just the pleasure of being outside.  I don't know.  Occasionally when we are outside he wants to play and like a newborn colt just finding his legs he bounds awkwardly towards me.  Unlike most colts, he topples over because of his damaged rear hips when he bounds too much. 

So when it comes to Will, his mountains are the figurative kind.  Yesterday he reached the top of one.  For nearly everyone else it wouldn't even be thought of as much of an achievement, but to me Will was sitting on a mountaintop as happily as Atticus ever has.  The key word is sitting.

For four weeks I've seen Will stumble about and stand awkwardly.  Whenever it was time to relax he let his body crumple underneath him.  There were audible groans from him as tried to lower himself to the floor gently.  Those old hips of his just didn't have enough strength in them to help him out and I'm sure the pain was excruciating at times.  Never once did I see him sit.  Oh, he's tried to, but then he feels the pain and the weakness undercuts his intention and he gets halfway down and then flops on the floor.

But yesterday we celebrated a victory.  And you saw it when you first clicked on this post and looked at the photo on top.  Will sitting.  He sat on three different occasions yesterday.  Not for very long, but it's a start. 

Atticus and I have taken Will into our home, but he's allowing us to come along on his journey.

I consider myself fortunate to watch Will reclaim his life and to play whatever small role I have.  I'm overjoyed by the little victories, embrace the mountains he climbs, and through it all I embrace him.

 
In Will's case, Hemingway was right. He's growing strong at the broken places.

35 comments:

Penni Glenz said...

Beautifully written....Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your life with two wonderful creatures....Will is so blessed to have you and Atticus and I can see how much you have been blessed by allowing him into your life.....I love that old gentleman of yours....

Sue said...

Thanks for sharing such an uplifting progress report on Will today, Tom. I'm counting it as one of my birthday gifts :).

sheila said...

thank you tom for your eloquent way of sharing your experience of life...atticus' and now will's. it is always heartfelt and encompasses the breathe of human experience. i think that you help your reader's stop and look and listen to what is around them....become more mindful of life...all life. so thank you. and may your life with will and atticus keep on for many more years. hugs to all...sheila

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Penni, Will has added so much challenge and pleasure to our place. He's made our happy home an even happier home.

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Happy birthday, Sue. I'm hoping this rain, if you're having it down there in CT, has been good for your lovely garden.

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Sheila, what nice words to read on a rainy Monday morning. Thank you!

Cheryl T. said...

God bless you and Atti for giving Will a family and home and God bless Will for accepting this challenge with willingness and love. Thanks, Tom, for sharing with us. <3<3<3

sammie1411 said...

You make me cry, Tom. You have a way of writing down the things we're thinking but can't quite express on our own. Thank you for taking Will into your lives. It was a risk but obviously one you were prepared for. Of course we've loved Atticus ever since the two of you appeared in our lives. Now we also love Will and all three of you remain in our hearts and prayers. Hurray for Will who deserved to have had the life he now has, all of his life. God Bless you Tom and Atticus.

Diane C said...

You are.a beautiful wonderful man......this world would be a much better place if everyone realized it isn't about the possessions we have but rather the love we are capable of sharing with another living creature who is less fortunate....

Sandy Anderson said...

What a wonderful inspiring story. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Tom thank you for your writing as it always comes from your heart ad what you see. Every step for William is like landing on the moon for him, each day he is awake is just pure joy as he has be just allowed to be who he is. He allowed him the biggest grift in live and that's life itself of beening just who you are. Your love from you and Atticus is felt by this old man William the joy of life has now been givin to him by you both. God bless the 3 of you.

WendiM said...

I echo what everyone else has said many times, God Bless you for taking Will into your lives, and giving him a chance to be all that he can be, whatever that is for him. Happy for his latest "summit".

Vicki Brown said...

Many of us know the miraculous nature of dogs, Tom - from following the recovery of the Vick pitties to helping abused or neglected babies of our own. They are truly the noblest of creatures and the gift you and Atti are giving Will is the most beautiful and generous expression of love. I wonder if you ever think back to your days before Max came into your life...can you now imagine living without the love and companionship of a dog? Thank you for allowing all of us to share your journey with Atti and Will...to selfishly feel that we are members of your wonderful little family <3

1HappyHiker said...

Tom, here are just a few of the many words that pop into my mind when reading this: poignant; uplifting; inspirational; kindness.

Best wishes to you, Atticus, and Will.

John

Anonymous said...

I too repeat all that has been said above. Each time I look at my dog Sandy I want to let her have all that she should in this life. Her being here for me has given me such joy! Your two are so lucky to have you Tom, to give them their life as it should be.

Bonnie said...

Tom thank you for continuing to let us follow your family on their journey.

Chantell said...

What a gorgeous, dignified-looking dog :) It is wonderful to hear how well he is doing under your care...You sound so devoted, and your post was so heartfelt ~ I think both of these dogs are very blessed to have you in their lives :)

Anonymous said...

Yay! So happy for Will and so thankful that you all have each other.

Cut said...

Tom - Today I went back to "page one", 2006, and will spend time reading now and then until I get back "Home". It is all so fine. One "technical" question - is it possible to change the dark blue texts on a black background (earlier posts) to some other more readable combination?
like WHITE, perhaps?? At any rate, all of this warms the heart of an octogenarian habitue of Franconia Notch, where I have climbed many times in the past with a collie and/or a black lab mix, Heidi and Bonnie.

Tim @ Appalachia and Beyond said...

YAY Will. Good Will Sitting.

Tom (and Atticus) said...

Thanks, John (1 Happy Hiker), coming from you, those words mean a lot.

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Why didn't I think of "Good Will Sitting", Tim? Good one!

Cindi E said...

Even little dogs can embrace a sense of hope. Hope is what cand take someone from the depths of a hole to the summit. And there is no greater act of love than to restore hope in another's heart.

Nate said...

Way to go Will! So nice to see Will making such great progress. He's very lucky to have found such a great home.

Anonymous said...

We are so glad to hear that Will is thriving. Our mountains all depend on where we start from.

Bruce with Limmer Boots
and
Doodles

Bev A said...

Spent the weekend in a writing seminar...found more than one organic opportunity to reference following atticus....:)

barbara l. hale said...

That's such a wonderful story. Good luck to you and Will and, of course, Atticus. You are doing such a wonderful thing.

Anonymous said...

What a nice birthday gift for lunch Tom. Go get 'em Will. You and Atticus are inspiring.

John

Hazel & Trusty Canine Teddy said...

Atta boy Will! Each day is a gift and one never knows what treasure will be revealed!

{{hugs to the three of you}}}

Hazel & Teddy

Silvia Soos-Kazel said...

Love, respect, hope and faith can be the winning combination for both humans and animals to persevere through a most difficult situation. Tom, you have given William this arena to heal and challenge himself onward through his life's journey. Your sharing stimulates others to find patience and understanding to encourage a better co existence within mankind.

Tina L said...

Ohhh, so wonderful!! May you all continue to have such wonderful happy moments....I think of Will daily and hope he is doing well.... So happy for you! What fantastic picture! :)

Anonymous said...

Tom - What a wonderful gift you are giving to Will. He came to you in need and you and Atticus are providing him a safe and caring home where he can heal and be loved. Keep up the great work. John

Deoné Longstaff said...

Crying happy tears in my morning coffee... I don't think anyone who didn't go through something similar would quite understand how significant this is. Congratulations on your mountain top Will! You are truly an inspiration!

Mike said...

Hi Tom,

I often think of life in baseball analogies, and I've always said that I just want to get to the plate. Once there, I get a chance to play. Maybe I'll strike out; maybe I'll hit a homerun. But I get to play, which is an opportunity that we all deserve. You and Atti give Will his time at the plate.

Tom (and Atticus) said...

Mike, I like that analogy. Thanks you.