This is part of an article first published in Fido Friendly Online Magazine: No Dog Left Behind June 2011. It was awarded second place in the national No Dog Left Behind Essay contest.
They are the days you never forget. Their images are burned in your heart forever.
In September 2008, we were scheduled for our annual family vacation at a beach house in Galveston, Texas with Max, our Golden Retriever. We loved Max, and we loved Galveston. Max was one of those special, once in a lifetime dogs. He taught us so much about love, survival, and grace.
On that September trip, Max and Galveston taught me their most important lesson.
Our romance with Galveston began years ago. We admired the Gulf city because she was a survivor. She was a bountiful, colorful, historic town that gracefully endured through tumultuous natural and economic challenges. As we returned each summer to Galveston, her renewal through the years reminded us that the struggle to survive and overcome adversity brings its own poignant and redemptive grace.
This year, Galveston beckoned us once again. It was time to enjoy our favorite dog in our favorite city. Max was 14 years old that summer and his health was failing. As September came, our vacation grew closer. We worried if Max would be up to making the trip. The long, steep, stairs to the beach house were difficult for us. They seemed impossible for an aging Golden with bad hips. Should we go?
Dogs live in the moment. We knew Max was never more alive than when he was being a beach dog. We needed to give him one more run on the beach, one more time to sit in his favorite place on the porch, and one more time to chase gulls on the beach. We decided to go to Galveston. No dog would be left behind who loved us and the beach that much.
As we pulled into the beach house driveway that brilliant September afternoon, Max seemed transformed. His ears went up. He stood erect. We marveled as he bounded up the long stairs to claim his position on the beach house porch. He was a young dog again.
The next evening, I walked with Max along the gulf shore as the day was ending. The evening felt tranquil, calm and still. It seemed to be a perfect place and time. Max seemed restored to youthful vigor. He was a beautiful, vibrant and strong golden retriever, majestically walking the Gulf shore with the evening breezes embracing him and my love surrounding him. Galveston felt more alive than ever on that evening. Her sights, colors, smell and gulf breezes, seemed richer, better, more intense, than ever before.
I sensed, for some reason, Galveston was playing us a special, sweet Gulf symphony .Max seemed to hear Galveston’s music . With new energy, he began a spirited dance down the beach. I saw that he had spotted a gull overhead against the Gulf sky. Watching Max, I marveled at the plume of his feathered tail that preceded me, held high and proud. It was wagging and waving as if to herald the arrival of the sunset. Suddenly, Max stopped. He turned around just once. He sat a moment, looked at me, and then flashed me his famous, silly, golden retriever grin. Then he trotted on, as if dancing in step to the sound of Galveston’s song. I knew I would hold that moment and its memory forever, etched on my heart.
Later that week, Hurricane Ike came ashore and devoured Galveston Island.
When it first appeared that Hurricane Ike might come ashore, a mandatory evacuation was ordered for our area in the west end of Galveston. Our family and Max evacuated the beach house and abruptly ended our vacation. Ike’s fury later hit Galveston County for approximately eighteen hours, at times bringing winds of more than 100 miles per hour. In the days to come, the storm surge would flood eighty percent of Galveston. The island once again had been asked to endure and survive. But just as in the great flood of 1900, Galveston was battered, not beaten. Galveston’s recovery would stand once again as a model of enduring resilience through life’s storms.
Max too would have many storms to endure over the next months. His painful and gallant battle with cancer finally ended. He died a few months after we returned. Max had found joy in each moment until the end of his life. He lived his Golden life to the fullest.
Max and Galveston were never more alive than that day before the storm on that Galveston beach. Max and Galveston showed me that the beauty and grace of a person or place were never left behind. They are with us forever and remain in our hearts.
On that trip, Max showed me the spirit of a life well lived. He taught me the grace that comes from loving each other in the times we share together. We must live in those moments. We can endure by seeing and holding the beauty of those places and times regardless of what future storms we must weather.
Max’s gallant sprit and Galveston’s resilience and charm are with me each time I walk along that Galveston shore. It is a place I love and to which I will always return. When I do, I often look out at the Galveston sunset and see a single gull fly by, as if a big, silly, smiling golden retriever is still chasing her.