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A Ticket to Life

He was about to undergo major surgery. Why was his dog acting so strangely?

A black cocker spaniel reclines with scraps of torn newspaper at its feet.

A strip of glossy paper, torn from yet another magazine, dangled from our little black cocker spaniel’s clenched teeth. I knelt down to tug the soggy, rectangular scrap from his mouth. “Come on, boy.” He relaxed his jaw and looked up with innocent eyes. I glared at him, frustrated.

Now? Why are you doing this now? Nothing, it seemed, could stop Leaf’s new bad habit. And he’d always been such a good dog! I held the slimy slip he’d dropped into my hand up to the light, reading the disjointed words and numbers printed on it as if they held some clue to his odd new behavior.

Each time he pulled this stunt it was the same thing: a slip of paper, not chewed or shredded, which he brought to me. “Ready to go?” my wife, Linda, asked, interrupting my inspection.

“Leaf’s at it again,” I said, showing her.

Linda slipped an arm around me. “Don’t worry about it. You know how scared he gets. He probably just doesn’t want you to go.”

Neither do I, I thought.

The hospital. That’s where Linda and I were headed. A sterile monolithic building where a surgeon was going to operate on my brain. I’d complained of headaches and blurred vision. Doctors had found an aneurysm, fatal if it ruptured.

I’d undergone tests, taken an MRI, a CT scan, had met with my surgeon and scheduled the operation, all while putting on the same brave face I wore as an officer for the Atlanta Police Department. I’d been in life-threatening situations my entire career, but this time, my bravery was a front.

In truth, I was terrified. Lately, a recurring nightmare confirmed my darkest fears: I was going to die.

I remembered the first night the scene unfolded before me. I was watching an endless snaking line of people, waiting to get inside a vast, domed building. Everyone I knew was there: Linda, family and friends, coworkers, people I recognized from church.

Slowly, one by one, they went through an entrance of what people in line were calling the Building of Life.

Each person held a ticket, as if for a concert. I pushed my way into the line, hoping that no one would notice I had no ticket. Everyone glared at me. Some said, “You do not belong here.” The line moved past me, leaving me behind. No! Terror ripped through me. I want to be with Linda! I want to live!

I woke up, my body shaking, my pillow drenched with sweat. The message couldn’t have been clearer. My life was over. I must have woken Leaf because he jumped onto the bed next to me. I wrapped my arms around him. It felt strange, him comforting me.

Usually it was the other way around. Linda and I had adopted Leaf from a shelter six months earlier. We’d given him his name because he’d seemed as fragile as an autumn leaf trembling in the breeze. Leaf had been abandoned, and his skittishness made us wonder if he’d been abused by a former owner.

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We kept a blanket on the floor by our bed for him to lie on, and he sometimes woke in the middle of the night with bad dreams, whimpering and crying pitifully. I’d roll out of bed and flick on a nightlight, then take him into my office and hold him in my arms until he calmed down.

“It’s okay, boy,” I’d say softly. “You’re safe now.”

But Leaf had never been destructive or acted out, not until just recently. The more anxious I got about the surgery, the more Leaf went on a shredding binge, tearing up newspapers, magazines, anything readable we left lying around.

He’d rip up a sheaf of paper and bring me some scrap covered with saliva, always one tiny scrap, looking at me with his deep, dark eyes. “No, Leaf, no,” I’d say, over and over. He didn’t seem to get it. Even as I headed out the door to the hospital, he just stood there, staring at me earnestly.

I shivered, sitting on the cold, starched sheet of the hospital bed, prepped for surgery: my head shaved, hospital gown wrapped loosely around me. Soon I’d be whisked off to the O.R. Linda leaned forward in her chair and we held hands, bowing our heads, praying. But my fear wouldn’t leave me.

What if this is it? Our last minutes together? Then it was time. Linda kissed me and I watched her go, just as a chaplain came in for a final prayer. She held my hand. “Trust in God,” she said. “Relax in his love.”

These words echoed in my mind on the way to the O.R. I closed my eyes. That’s when I saw Leaf’s face projected on the backs of my eyelids. He held a sliver of paper in his mouth. In my inner vision I reached out as Leaf dropped it into my hands.

I knew what it was. Those cropped letters and numbers that lined the deliberately torn scrap, they hadn’t made any sense before. But now they did.

A ticket. That was what Leaf was giving me. The nightmares that plagued him, and me—had Leaf seen what I’d seen? Impossible. Yet I was sure of it. Surer than I’d ever been of anything. I’m going to make it, I thought. I will awaken and enter the Building of Life.

Ten days later I came home, stitches running from the center of my skull to below one ear. Bruises covered the right side of my face. Surgery had been a complete success. And Leaf? His paper-shredding ended as quickly as it had begun. He never did it again.

 

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Walking in Grace 2023 is the perfect way to start or end each day, focusing on God’s love, and connecting you to a community of writers and readers. Each daily devotion will bless you with a short Scripture verse that draws you into His word, a true moving story about the joys and challenges of living a life of faith, hope, and optimism, a short personal prayer that helps you put the day’s message to work in your own life, and a unique “Digging Deeper” Scripture for further reflection.

In just a few minutes a day, Walking in Grace 2023 will help you find the spiritual richness you long for in your life.

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