When her beloved yellow Lab was hit by a car, she blamed herself. Could she cede control in a time of crisis?
- Posted on Jan 25, 2021
The call came one September morning, before I’d had my coffee. “Julie, he’s drinking again.”
Our family member had relapsed. Not for the first time. I got off the phone and felt myself slipping too. Not by drinking, but by “stinking thinking,” the distorted thought patterns that had made my life unmanageable. Overanalyzing. Obsessing. Trying to control things.
Clyde, our four-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, came into the kitchen as I poured my coffee, prancing as much as a 100-pound dog could prance. He knew it was time for a walk. “You’re always happy, aren’t you, buddy?”
I drank my coffee, imagining worst-case scenarios involving this family member who’d fallen off the wagon. One phone call, and my 20 years of Al-Anon recovery work went out the window. I didn’t want to think about the 12 Steps right now. I’d rather worry.
“Come on, Clyde,” I said. “Let’s go on a walk.” He charged ahead of me to the back door.
Would I ever reach a point where letting go and letting God came naturally to me?
I got my iPod and decided to forgo Clyde’s leash. He never wandered off, not even to chase squirrels. And we live way back in the woods on several acres. You can’t see our log cabin from the road. Our gravel driveway is a third of a mile long, with plenty of space to walk.
I stepped out into the stifling heat—that’s September in Georgia for you—slipped in my earbuds and cranked up my music, trying to drown out my thoughts.
I’d talked to B.J., my Al-Anon sponsor, a few months earlier about another situation I had to relinquish. “Julie,” she’d said, “you have no control over how the world turns. God does that all on his own. Your job is to let go and trust him.”
Besides being my sponsor, B.J. is an animal lover. She was thrilled when we got Clyde. The breeder let us have him at only six weeks. I thought maybe we’d gotten him too young. B.J. assured me he’d be fine. She was right. Watching Clyde sniff the trees along the driveway, I remembered Cooper, our black Lab, who had died at 15.
The two dogs were totally different in appearance and personality. Clyde didn’t have Cooper’s handsome show-dog body type. Barrel-chested with long skinny legs, he outweighed Cooper by 15 pounds. Clyde was top-heavy, a bit odd-looking, but what a personality! Laid-back and loyal. A dog who wanted nothing more than to be with his people.
“Clyde, you don’t know how to worry, do you, buddy?”
He grinned at me and kept walking. We got to the mailbox at the end of the driveway and then circled back toward home.
Maybe 50 feet from the road, I noticed Clyde wasn’t with me. How could that be? He always stuck close. I ripped out my earbuds. With my music playing so loudly, I wouldn’t have heard anything else. Not barking. Not a car horn or brakes squealing. I looked around. No sign of him.
“Clyde, come!” He wasn’t hardheaded. If he could hear me, he would come running.
I rushed back down the driveway. Then I spotted Clyde, limping toward me. His right hip swayed inward with each step. Blood covered his paws. He managed to wag his tail before collapsing at my feet. Must have been hit by a car.
Clyde quivered. Breathed rapidly, in spurts. Gotta get him to the vet.
He was too big for me to carry. I had no choice but to try to get him to walk. “Clyde, come.” He gazed at me with his amber-gold eyes and unfolded his gazellelike legs. Then he stood. “Heel,” I said, patting my leg. Slowly, step by step, he walked with me to the car 250 feet away.
Each step of the way, guilt lashed at me. If only I had used a leash. Or watched him more closely. Or not taken my iPod. Or been paying attention and not obsessing.
Finally, we made it to the car. I managed to get him into the back seat. I texted B.J.
“Pray. On my way to the vet. Clyde got hit by a car.”
Minutes later, we were in an exam room. The vet made no promises. Clyde might have a pneumothorax, an abnormal accumulation of air between his lungs and his chest wall, making it difficult for him to breathe. She wanted to keep him for X-rays and tests.
“Some dogs don’t survive this kind of injury,” she said. “He might also have a fractured hip. If his breathing worsens, we’ll transfer him to a larger animal hospital, where they can monitor him overnight. Call around four this afternoon. I should know more by then.”
I glanced at my watch. Nine-thirty. Could I wait until four?
Before I left, I kissed Clyde’s head. “I’m sorry, buddy. I love you.”
Back home, I replayed every detail of the morning—just the way I’d done for years with my family members—wishing that I could have a do-over.
By lunchtime, I just couldn’t wait any longer. I had to go check on him. On my way to the vet’s office, my cell phone rang. It was B.J. “Hey, kiddo,” she said. “You doing okay?”
I filled her in.
“You know what to do, right?” she said.
“I shouldn’t have been so careless. If only I hadn’t…”
“Julie, things happen in life that are beyond our control. It was an accident. You need to let go. Trust God with Clyde. No matter what.”
Let go and let God. How many times had I heard this—about family members, work concerns, other worries?
“You’re going to be okay,” B.J. said. “God’s in control.” It felt as if she was preparing me for Clyde to die.
We said goodbye, and I pulled into the parking lot at the vet’s.
Did I trust God? Really trust him? No matter what?
Just for today, could I let go of Clyde and everyone else in my life?
I looked at my hands, clutching the steering wheel. I loosened my grip, took my hands off the wheel and turned them over. Palms open, facing toward heaven.
Father, I don’t feel very strong right now. Will you help me release Clyde and my entire family to your care? You know best.
I walked into the vet’s office and went to the front desk.
“I’m early,” I said. “I just wanted to check on Clyde.”
The receptionist led the way to the same exam room. “The doctor wants to talk to you. Have a seat.”
Whatever she says, whatever the outcome, Lord, I trust you.
The vet came in. “Clyde is such a sweetheart,” she said to me, holding X-rays and several bottles of medication. “He has a pneumothorax—a collapsed lung—but there are no broken bones. That barrel chest of his saved his life. He’s one tough dog. He needs lots of rest, but he’s going to be fine.”
“He’s okay? Really? He’s going to make it?” I could hardly believe it. “Oh, thank you! Can I see him?”
“You sure can,” she said. “He’s going home with you.”
A tech brought Clyde into the exam room. He took a few wobbly steps toward me, wagging his tail. Then he plopped his big head in my lap and licked my hands. I wrapped my arms around his neck.
In the car, I called B.J. “Guess what? Clyde is all right. He’s with me now. Can you believe it?”
“Sure I can! Give him a hug for me. And remember, any time you feel the urge to worry or try to control things, you know what that means.”
“Yep,” I said. “I need to let go and let God. Again.”
“One more thing. No matter what had happened with Clyde, you’d have been okay, kiddo.”
I believed her. With everything I had, I believed her.
“We need to keep letting go every day for the rest of our lives,” she said. “There’s no other way.”
I glanced in the rearview mirror at Clyde, who was looking right at me. He had wandered off, and I’d done the same thing. I’d taken a wrong turn, drifted from my Master’s side, but now Clyde and I were headed home.
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