As a writer, Nathan Long tends to see the world as a series of stories interweaving to paint a rich emotional tapestry. His narratives and essays are familiar to readers of journals and literary websites. Time to do his work has been fueled by prestigious fellowships and grants. Long also commutes from Philadelphia to Pomona, NJ to teach at Richard Stockton College. For this edition of This I Believe, Long sent us a touching essay about friendship and the power of stories.
After my dog Gracie escaped from my boyfriend's backyard, we scoured the streets and put up fliers, but had no luck. She was gone. By dark, we returned home, exhausted.
On the second day, I called my vet, the SPCA, and the city animal shelter. Nothing. I felt lost, defeated.
If I knew Gracie had been killed, I thought, I would be heartbroken, but could move on.
If I knew she was caught somewhere, I would rescue her. If I knew she had found a better home, I would be sad, yet relieved. But how do I deal with the unknown? Pray? Wait patiently? Search endlessly?
Give up? I didn't know what to do, what to hope for.
The third day, while I was searching in the woods for Gracie with my friend Rhea, I confessed that losing Gracie felt like losing faith in everything. Rhea smiled and said, "You know, Maybe Gracie's on a great adventure". It seems strange but I suddenly felt better. Rhea's words reminded me what, as a writer, I definitely have faith in: the power of story.
As one fellow writer said,all we have is stories. It's what holds our life together. We call some stories science, some stories myth, but imagine hearing for the first time that the world may be round, or that solid matter is mostly hollow. Such stories only become real when we believe them. And some stories are never supported with scientific fact, but still seem to hold true.
Ten years earlier, I'd dreamt that I should get a dog, and by that evening, Gracie, a goofy-looking gray mutt, came into my life. When people on the street asked what her breed was, I said Muppet Wolf Terrier, because I believed Gracie was a breed of her own, a fluffy half dog, half wolf.
So why not now imagine, as Rhea suggested, that she was off exploring her wolf side?
The fourth day started with me finding a nickel on the sidewalk, I was convinced it meant Gracie would come home on the fifth day. It was another story to hold on to.
On the fifth day, I was at a friend's house when the phone rang. I felt instantly it was news about Gracie. And I was right. Someone had found her in a downtown alley and had taken her in. Still, I cried when I finally saw her in my hallway, her head lying quietly on her furry front paws. "My wolf days are over", she seemed to say. "I'm back to being a dog".
Or so is the story I choose to believe.