A long time ago in a space that seems fuzzy and far away, before I owned a road bike or called myself a cyclist, my step-dad, Chris, used to take me mountain biking. I use that term loosely because it’s not like I was hopping up boulders or screaming downhill, whipping through singletrack or anything. I was riding mostly flat dirt trails on my mountain bike.
Often Chris would bring along his dog, Jack. Jack was the blackest dog I’ve ever seen. His coat was a glossy obsidian color and as he ran alongside us, his pink tongue would hang out. His tongue had one black spot right in the middle. In his more nimble days, Jack would get so excited about riding bikes that he would bite at our tires. I would nudge him away with my foot, half smiling at his mischievous side. Not that I could relate or anything.
As I tootled along the dusty trails, I tried, with varying amounts of success, not to get lost and not to crash. Quite often I got separated from Chris and he’d send Jack to find me. I was never afraid of being lost when I rode with Chris because I knew Jack would always come back for me. As I stood befuddled as to which way to turn on a trail, Jack would lope up to me, his polka dot tongue waggling at me. I would say “Hi, Jack. Thanks for coming to get me. Take me to Chris.” And sure enough, Jack led me to Chris every time. He was my own personal rescue dog.
Today Jack died. And I am sad. I know he was old and no longer spry enough to run rescue missions on the trails. And I know he wasn’t even my dog. But I am sad. Sad that he will never nip at my tires or grin at me with his silly polka dot tongue.
I rode my bike to school today and in the late morning Terry dropped by my classroom with a bouquet of stark white roses. When it came time to go home, I jimmied the bouquet into my backpack and strapped on my helmet. The roses bumped against the back of my helmet as I pedaled up the hill home. Every little bump seemed to release a new wave of fragrance into the air. It was lovely.
As I inhaled the scent of the white roses, I thought of black Jack. I thought of how grief is anything but black and white. It is shades of gray, birthed from black sorrow and white joy stacked one upon the other, like crying and laughing in the same breath.
When I got home today, I plunged the roses into a vase of water. A lone petal fell onto the counter. I fingered its pale skin, grateful today for the juxtaposition of loss and love. I stood in the kitchen and gave thanks that in my life there is more laughing than crying, more love than loss, more white than black.