Dogs, Japan, Waiting

Hachiko (here stuffed and on display) at the National Science Museum of Japan in Tokyo


Humans have no monopoly on grief. The word certainly, but not what it means.

In 1924, a professor named Hidesaburo Ueno in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo adopted an Akita named Hachikō. Every day for a year Hachikō greeted him at the Shibuya train station and then they would walk home together. Then, one day while far from the house, Ueno died from a cerebral hemorrhage and never returned to the train station. For the next nine years Hachiko waited patiently at the station. He became famous. He has a statue. A movie. And in 1994, 59 years after his death, millions of Japanese people tuned in to hear a newly-discovered recording of his bark.

According to an AP article published yesterday, “Lance Cpl. Liam Tasker, a dog handler with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, was killed in a firefight with insurgents in Helmand Province on March 1 as he searched for explosives with Theo, a bomb-sniffing springer spaniel mix. The dog suffered a fatal seizure hours later at a British army base, likely brought about by stress.”

There is also Spot, who continues to wait for his owner.

These stories are old stories. Even Darwin wrote about dogs sad after their owners’ deaths. I do not pretend to know what dog longing feels like. Or sadness for that matter. I know the human version well. As most of us do.

My father died when I was seventeen. He used crutches. For years I listened for the clinking sound of the crutches. It was not logical. But I was aware I was always waiting.

I once read something Anne Lammott wrote about losing her father, I can’t remember the exact words but it was something like “Ever since my father died, anything good I’ve done has felt like being a gymnast performing a perfect 10 routine in an empty auditorium.” This is, for me, just how it is. While the sharpest pain is scabbed over, the dull ache of it never goes away. Instead it yawns wider as all the little good things build up that you wish you could’ve shared but can’t. It’s like a slow-moving glacier.

This week Dear Sugar wrote about losing moms. “I’m not talking about weeping and wailing every day (though sometimes we both did that). I’m talking about what goes on inside, the words unspoken, the shaky quake at the body’s core. There was no mother at our college graduations. There was no mother at our weddings. There was no mother when we sold our first books. There was no mother when our children were born. There was no mother, ever, at any turn for either one of us in our entire adult lives and there never will be.”

Sugar knows all about the glacier. How it makes valleys where there weren’t ones before. Big U-shaped tunnels through the wilderness.

It isn’t all bad. Sometimes something interesting happens on the road while you’re sitting there watching.

“Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances.” Or rather, that is what Robert Hass says.

One Comment on “Dogs, Japan, Waiting

  1. Thank you for the lovely column. I never liked dogs much until my boyfriend brought them with him when he moved in to help a widow with two teenage kids pull things together. Now that he’s gone, the dogs are such a comfort (OK, a pain and lots of work, too, but worth it). For kids who lost two dads in 11 years, creature comforts are true comforts.

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