Dave Griffin & His Running Buddy Pepper
My childhood dogs were miniature schnauzers, and I loved them. I was an introverted child and my dogs were steadfast friends.
My first Schnauzer, Pepper, was my very first running buddy. He and I would run laps around the house, an odd thing for a child to do perhaps, but I would never argue that I was ordinary. In my mind, we were racing. I kept Pepper close only because he was on a leash, and I could usually muster a surprise sprint to edge him at the finish line.
Almost all my childhood play involved running in one form or another. Mostly it was sports, but other times I was just running from place to place.
Play was an escape from my small responsibilities. It was recess, freedom, and fun.
When I began running in high school, it felt much like play. Sports and play are interchangeable to me, and I felt free in the movement. That feeling continued as I entered and progress through young adulthood. Workouts were games. Racecourses were playgrounds.
Running hasn’t always been fun for me as I’ve gotten older. I’ve spent a lot of time injured. And even when I’m healthy, I have to deal with the harsh reality of slowing down. At times, running can feel like an impossible search for joy that went missing.
In 2016 my wife and I started thinking about getting a puppy. After talking about my fond memories from childhood, we decided on a schnauzer.
She was born on my daughter’s birthday in November, and we named her Genny after my maternal grandmother, Genevieve. We brought her home in February 2017.
Four weeks earlier, my mom was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. She was selfless and at peace. Her strength helped me as I watch her fail, but it did nothing to soften the grief of missing her. Genny was with me when I most needed comfort.
As she grew Genny became my play buddy. We played ball together. I would throw, and she would catch, and then run back to me like an excited child. Genny loved to wrestle and play tug of war with her squeaky toys. She was also the very best cuddle. She talked to me, and I almost always knew what she was saying. There was the “I’m so glad to see you,” greeting, and the “It’s time for a chicken strip” around 7:00 every evening. She reminded me that we always play after breakfast, and again once I changed my clothes after work.
Genny became ill over a weekend. When I took her to the vet that Monday, they told me she was anemic and diagnosed her with an autoimmune condition. She wasn’t eating much at first, then not eating at all. She became frailer each day, and despite our best care, she died in my arms that Sunday afternoon.
I am not one to ponder unanswerable questions. I don’t need to know why. But I do search for meaning, and this is was I’ve found. I used to think Genny’s verbal reminders about playing were for her. But now, in hindsight, I think she knew I need to play too. I think she knew something important was missing in my life.
I’ve run often since I lost her, and somehow the runs have been more freeing, more playful. I’ve stopped pining for the joy of the past and finding joy in the moment I’m living.
It’s easy to immerse ourselves in loss, and in what seems to be unsolvable problems. But just because it’s easy, doesn’t me we should. In fact, that’s the worst thing we can do.
Problems are a part of life, it’s true. But they are not the only part of life, and the more we focus on the good and the joy, the smaller our problems become. Now more than ever, we need to remember that truth.
Find joy. Dance. Run. Embrace the things you love, like the Genny’s in your life, and feel them embrace you back.