Life, What We Leave Behind

Life, What We Leave Behind

By: Kerrin Winter-Churchill  Date: 08/4/2014

Have you heard the expression "today is the first day of the rest of your life"? I'm sure you have. Its a pretty famous line that begs the internal question "what I am doing with the life I have left?" An easy-enough question to blow off as we busy ourselves with the day to day scurry of our lives. Like everybody else, I was too busy just getting through my days to think anymore about "the rest of my life" until by way of a routine doctor's appointment I was re-routed in my life's journey by the God-smacking news "you have cancer." Outwardly, I joked with my doctors, demonstrating the strength of character so badly needed to get a patient through the worst of it all. But inwardly, I have to say, my mind was reeling with the knowledge that I hadn't yet really gotten to my life's work. Inwardly, I wondered, "will there be time.?"

To be sure, my cancer is quite treatable. Science in this modern era is a wonder filled with medical tests and procedures that pretty much guarantee that (if caught in the early stages) almost all cancers are treatable these days. But, all one has to do is reach out to a nearest friend to hear of someone who did not survive the cancer that invaded their bodies and so even though the odds are in my favor, I know weird "stuff" happens causing me to think, "cancer, I have my eye on you."  I'm healthy, I'm strong. I have radically improved my way of life. My team of doctors tell me that the chemotherapy, followed by radiation therapy, followed by five years of a cancer killing drug will surely save my life and so I jokingly say, "Four out of five doctors agree, I'll be "just fine at the end of my treatment."  But what if by some fluke I end up on the other side of statistics?  What if (as in my premonition from years ago) I die at the ripe old age of 56? From my death-bed, what will I have to look back on? A small but loving family, a single handful of true and lasting friends, a library of photographs, and countless prose (some published, but mostly not). As a long time, professional photographer and writer full of wanderlust, my life has been filled with intrigue and grand adventure but lately, I've been staring at the skull -  wondering if my true and lasting legacy will be that I passed down my dad's ability to whistle a salty, sailor's tune.

Meanwhile, locked away, deep inside, my writer's voice begs for clemency. Falsely accused of wasting its time on endless magazine articles for too little pay while more pressing (domestic interests) stood wanting, the voice was banished and has rarely been heard from since. Years have gone by and that voice pleads to be freed from its internal prison but the very basic necessities of the life I chose, has left us disconnected.  Oh, I've tried to bring it back. I've prayed and meditated and forced myself to write but so far nothing has worked. Sulking, the voice would reluctantly give a few lines here and there but a fountainhead? No, not in five years. But now, now that I see how short my life could be, I am fighting for the return of my voice. Though still separated, I can hear it clanging the rails of its cell, willing  a final burst of energy to break the chains of bondage and be forever-free, pouring forth a new river of words that will have lasting meaning for the ages.

But how? I'm no philosopher. What do I have to offer the world? What can my mind and voice add to a literary guild peppered with the talents of everyone from Marcus Aurelius to Tony Robbins? What could my voice and I offer the world that would have lasting meaning? But I know that's just fear talking and so here I am, a very poor man's Hamlet, contemplating the life I've lived and pondering the days left to me. "Don't die with the story inside," warns a forgotten sage. "Write what you know," says every how-to manual on the craft of writing.  My favorite prodding comes from the side of my friend Kate's refrigerator. Its a comic clipping from the always witty New Yorker Magazine. In the scene, a frustrated writer sporting suspenders and the last few strands of his hair, rubs his brow as he leans over his typewriter, surrounded by a mound of false starts, torn away and crumpled at his feet. Looking on, hands on her hips is his wife. Surrounding them both are ten to twenty dogs in various positions, scratching fleas, chasing a tail, chewing a nearby couch and sniffing the discarded prose. The wife's advice to her disheveled husband is the caption to this comic scene. "Write about dogs."

And so I begin. Again.


A star-eyed youth, I spent my earliest days wandering the woods and fields with my dogs in northern Ohio. Chores, dinner and school would interrupt our time together but in-between all of those necessary encampments that hinder (and force to grow) youth, I could always be found in the company of dogs. Owing to the guilt that they could not provide us with a barn and horses, our loving parents indulged their daughters in a life with dogs and we raised them, took them to dog shows, and loved them with every minute of our lives. While childhood friends have grown far apart, and youthful endeavors have given way to the practicalities of adulthood, my deep-seated interest and very personal relationship with dogs remains the most precious, constant of my life.

Loving dogs the way I do, I have spent long hours wondering about the vast differences in our life spans. What cruel god would give us something as wonderful as a dog only to rip them away long before we were ready to say goodbye. It matters little if our cherished dogs were with us for eighteen months or years. Their short life span is the only thing incompatible with the heart of a human being. Or is it? Could it be that the short life span of a dog is part of an intelligent design that we mere mortals are simply too block-headed to understand? How many dogs have you loved? How many times has your heart been torn to bits by their passing? What if God could make the lifespan of a dog to match our very own? What if we were born together and lived our entire lives as one. Which of all the dogs we have loved in our lifes' journey would we chose to be our one and only "forever dog"? If the "one dog per lifetime rule" was the universal plan, we wouldn't miss what we never knew. But since we can't truly fathom the unknowable and even though it hurts badly to lose a faithful friend, if you've lived as long as I have, you might know how impossible it would be to live on this earthly plain, simultaneously bonded to ten to twenty dogs - all of them sharing our best and worst moments - all at one time. So which, of all the dogs you've ever loved, would you be willing to have never known, if you had to choose past them for the sake of your one and only? Maybe in His wisdom, God already knows what we can only wonder. There is a time and purpose for each four-footed friend that shows up in our lives. Could it be that each of our dogs trots into our life to share a very special mission designed for a particular portion of our lives?  How else can one explain why a dog is always near by, just exactly when we really need him?


Laying on the couch, watching my little bulldog staring back at me -  typing on my word processor while a spaniel rests his head upon my feet, hiking the wooded hills with a pointer galloping ahead of me or driving across country with a chihuahua scouting from the passenger seat, I have had plenty of time to contemplate what dogs really mean to me and who they really are. Anyone who has lived in concert with a lifetime of dogs will come to their own conclusion but for me, dogs are like raindrops of pure love sent down from an infinite and heavenly source, sent to cleanse my weary soul one drop at a time. Like the water that replenishes the earth and cycles back to air, my doggy droplets eventually return to love's universal source. Just when I think I can't survive for one more second in a barren wasteland without the love of a special dog, another drop of love plops down into my life and my soul is restored.

About The Author

Kerrin Winter-Churchill's photo
Kerrin Winter-Churchill -

All Authors Of This Article: | Kerrin Winter-Churchill |




blog comments powered by Disqus