Today.  Time.  Stopped.

I guess life has always been and always will be governed by some measure of time.  Pre-technology mankind marked the rise and fall of the tides, the rise and setting of the sun, the cycle of the moon, the change of the seasons, the birth to death cycle of life.  Cognizance of our utter mortality has forced the checking and tracking of time.  Some of us seem to be more aware than others.  With each passing day as age advances and the signs of bodily wear and tear creep along time ticks a little louder and more persistently.  A steady stream of intuition and observation pushes our conscience toward the inevitable conclusion; our days upon this earth are numbered.

When I came into work today I immediately noticed that the clock on my cubicle wall had stopped.  Dead.  Ten-thirty-seven and forty-eight seconds.  It was 8:10 am.  I am very anal about time.  In fact I’m probably a little obsessive-compulsive about time.  Although I fancy myself to be a free-spirit, moving through life at a whim, my free-flowing nature keeps a wary eye perched and watching the clock.  Clock on the wall; digits on the cell phone; wrist watch; desktop time widget; all poised and ready to keep me informed of every moment and on time for every task.  I obsess over meeting start and end times, insisting on arriving at the precise moment they begin, and leaving at the exact moment of their scheduled conclusion, nervously and impatiently squirming in my seat the second it begins to run over.  I love it when a meeting is cut short.  I love to hear the phrase “we will give you ‘X’ minutes back of your day.”  Yes!  Recaptured time.  And the clock ticks on.

I sat quietly at my desk looking at my clock, realizing that a new battery would jump start it’s unbeating heart back to life.  But I was carried away into thoughts of the finality to which this stopped clock alluded.  Eternity; that place in the ethereal universe, that state of existence that has transcended the constraints of life, that dimension that exists only when time stops.

I was sitting in my big leather chair.  It was late at night, far past midnight.  As I am often given to do I was dozing in front of the TV when I should have long before been in bed.  At my feet were two house guests.  My daughter was traveling on a grand adventure to play 9-ball in a national amateur tournament in Las Vegas.  Although her team did not succeed in capturing the title they had a wonderful time creating and leaving behind Vegas secrets and memories.  While she was away she had left in my care her babies; her two precious dogs whom she adores.  Jinjer, an Aussie mix, and Jorja a shepherd mutt have each provided her love and companionship from day to day.  They lay sleeping at my feet.

As we dozed and dreamed together I was awakened by the clickety-click of long toe nails pittering down the tile hallway.  My little friend, Satchmo, our prized rat terrier had lifted his sleepy head and realized that he had to go out for his middle of the night sojourn in the back yard.  This always roused the house guests, and tonight was no exception.  Suddenly there was a scamper of activity and much dancing at the back door along with eyes of desperation and looks of “gotta go, gotta go, gotta go!”  I shook off the fog of post-midnight dozing, squirmed out of my chair and opened the back door.  Whoosh!  Out they charged to find the sacred ground to release the pressures of the moment.  Having done my duty I sauntered back to my chair to await there imminent return.

Scratch……  Ssscccrrraaattttcccchhhh…….  Sc.. Sc.. Sc… SCR…  SCRAAAA …..  SCCCCRRAAATTTTCCCCHHHH !!!!!  Bark bark bark barkarkarkarkark.

Roused from another round of dozing in the magic chair I glanced at the clock.  2:30 am.  Geez!  I had done it again, another night of lingering in my chair instead of going to bed.  Not only that, but the dogs had been out for a good 30 minutes instead of the planned 5 minute pee and sniff run.  But wait a minute.  The DOGS!!  Only Satchmo was scratching at the door.  Where are Jinjer and Jorja?  A lump quickly rose in my throat, and a familiar sense of anxiety welled within me. 

Ten years ago, shortly after moving into our home, Mozart, our Cocker Spaniel and beloved family pet slipped out the back door, ran into the street and into the path of an oncoming car.  Although not killed by the accident his spine was broken and twisted resulting in the agonizing and heart wrenching decision to have him euthanized.  It took a long time to forgive ourselves for not being more prepared and protective of our pet while living on a busy road.  After many months of swearing we would not own another dog while living on such a dangerous street we gave in to our love of animals and brought home a neglected little bundle of energy puppy that quickly stole our hearts and rekindled the love of caring for a helpless and dependent canine companion.  But this time we took all the necessary precautions; fencing around the immediate backyard, and an invisible fence around the entire perimeter of the property.  Months of practice and training have resulted in Satchmo being a fully trained, contained and fantastically content family pet.  But other dogs are different.  They are not trained to our yard.  They are not secure in the surroundings.  They are not impacted by the invisible fence, and the backyard fencing is only as secure as their inability to figure a way to get out of it.  But because of our love for animals and our willingness to be helpful, we are often given the task of dog sitting when various family members venture out of town.  This has always made me uncomfortable and concerned for the well being of these cherished family pets.  I have taken measures to secure the safety of my own animal, but cannot ensure the safety of others.  Nor do I want the responsibility to handle the situation if they get free of the backyard.  I have always made myself a major pain in the rear when our services have been requested.  I have always voiced my displeasure and desire to not participate in this risky venture.  I always relent and give in.

I jumped to my feet and ran to the door in anticipation of discovering the truth I already knew.  Sure enough the back gate was standing wide open.  “Oh NO!  Crap, crap, crap!  Anytime we let Satchmo out he always runs straight for the gate and gives it a nudge to see if he is free to run about the whole yard.  But it is always, always locked when we have guest dogs.  ALWAYS!  But not tonight.  While I snoozed in my chair the dogs were roaming the neighborhood.  Unattended.  Unprotected.  But hey, it’s 2:30 am.  Hopefully they don’t get into the neighbors trash, or cause a ruckus with all the other dogs on the street.  I grab my shoes and resign myself to the task at hand, to spend the rest of my sleepless night roaming the streets, fetching the wandering scavengers on their grand trek.

I step through the gate and into the driveway.  I gave a faint 2:30 whistle to no response.  Satchmo is dancing around my feet and leading me Lassie-like toward the front yard like both the on-duty sentry and the tattletale little brother.  As I approach the front of the house and the driveway reaching into the yard to the street beyond I hear the distant hum.  Hmmm….. growing louder… HHHMMmmmm…. louder still… HHHHMMMMMMM……  with major intensity now…. HHHHHMMMMMMMM….  I can almost see up the road…..  then… then the most god-awful, soul shaking, despairing sound I have ever heard in my life….  THUDUD!!  And in an instant a car, at what seemed to be 60 miles per hour or more zipped by me without the slightest pause.  My heart sunk into the depths of my belly.  Fear and loathing swept through my mind and shook my body clean to my feet.  I took two giant steps forward into the middle of the street and turned to face the origin of the sound.  In the early morning darkness, lit only by a distant streetlight, some 200 yards away I saw a dark shape lying motionless on the street, and a confused and disoriented companion swiftly circling, sniffing, pausing, pawing and circling again.  “Oh my God!  No, no, no.  Not this.  Please not this.”  I began to run.  I charged up the street with all that was in me, with hope falling and fading with every step.  The closer I came the faster the realization came to rest in my heart.  At ten paces away I stopped, my lungs heaving and my heart pounding.  Jinjer.  Oh my God, not Jinjer.  “Let her be alive.  Just let her be alive.”  As my body filled with anguish and despair I stood and watched the tragedy of death unfold before my eyes.  She was fighting.  She was struggling.  She fought for air, for breath, for life.  And then not.

The North Carolina night air was full of summer humidity.  Heavy.  Sultry.  Silent.  Jorja looked to me for comfort, for assurance that all was normal.  Satchmo scurried and barked in the distance behind the protective shield of the invisible fence.  There in the middle of the street, in the middle of the night, in the middle of life I knelt and I wept over the lifeless body of a faithful companion fallen prey to a menacing twist of fate, a momentary lapse in responsibility that freed her into the night to run and play.  I caressed her warm body.  I stroked her soft fur.  I stared through tear-filled eyes into the darkness of her lifeless eyes.  I mustered a strength from deep within and scooped her body off the street.  I cradled her in my arms like a mother holding her newborn child.  With tears coursing down my cheeks, and precious drops of blood flowing down my arm my thoughts turned to my daughter and the grief that she must endure on this silent and dark night.  And time stopped.

Shannon and Jinjer