There is one person in particular that I know I could never forget, even if I made an effort. She was present in my life for almost my entire childhood, from when I was a year old until she passed away when I was thirteen. When I remember her, all I can do is smile and shake my head, still amazed to this day that massive influence she had on me as a child.
One of my most cherished memories is when Sheba helped me overcome my fear of the dark. Growing up, I lived next door to my grandparents. Sometimes my mom would ask me to fetch provisions from their house when we ran out of things, like milk or sugar. When she asked at night, it was all I could do not to cry. I would run as fast as I could to Grandma’s house and back, convinced I could hear some awful monster pursuing me as I ran. When I darted up the porch stairs, I imagined grotesque, slimy, clawed hands reaching out from under the porch to grab my ankles.
One summer night, my family and I were sitting on the porch, just relaxing and talking. I looked out across the field and saw that it was full of fireflies, and I had the urge to catch them. But of course, my fear of the dark stood in my way. The field was a long way away from the comforting light of the house, and handling a flashlight and catching fireflies simultaneously would be cumbersome. But I was determined to go firefly hunting. So, I asked Sheba to come with me, knowing her presence would comfort me. Mom and Dad would be keeping a vigilant watch form the porch too.
Sheba stayed very close to me the whole time, and she was always happy to see the new fireflies I had caught. At first I was nervous, but Sheba never strayed from my side, and it didn’t take me long to forget about my fear. I had so much fun that I decided to go again the next night, and the next. Soon, firefly catching was a regular activity that Sheba and I shared. Though I didn’t notice it until many years later looking back on those summer memories, every time we went out to the field armed with jars, she had wandered farther and farther from me. I specifically remember one night when after nearly half an hour of firefly hunting, I sat on the ground to take a break. When I looked around for Sheba, I spotted her shadowy figure all the way on the other end of the field, exploring the tree line. Her distance hadn’t bothered me in the least.
One night that summer, I was restless, and decided to channel my energy into chasing the glowing insects in my field. When I went to get Sheba, I found her fast asleep. Not wanting to wake her, I took up my trusty jar and ventured out into the dark field all on my own. I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous at first, but just like the first night that I ever went, it was soon gone. I returned with my trophy; a blinking, glowing jar, along with a feeling of elation. The captured fireflies in that monumental jar represented an earth-shattering triumph and importance that their little buggy brains could never comprehend. Never again did I sprint from my house to Grandma’s and back. Instead, I went at a comfortable stroll, enjoying the natural beauty of nighttime in a way I had never been able to before. Looking back, I’m certain she did it on purpose.
Over the years, Sheba showed me the precarious art of listening. Like overcoming my fear of the dark, it happened gradually, and I never gave her credit for teaching me until many years later, after reflection on my memories. Whenever something was wrong, whether I was sad, angry, or scared, Sheba was the only person I knew who would lend an ear and leave it at that. Sometimes when you’re upset, you just want to get the object of frustration off your chest and not hear someone else’s opinion on it. Sheba was a master at listening. I could tell her anything, and sometimes I held her hand while I did. She would hug me if I need it, and it did not bother her if I cried all over her and drenched her with tears.
I call listening a precarious art because as humans, it’s hard to resist voicing our opinion on something. When there’s something on our minds, it often takes a great deal of will power to keep it from spewing out of our mouths. We’re boisterous, noisy creatures. As I grew older, I repeatedly wondered why a multitude of my friends came to me with so many of their problems. What set me apart from other potential confidants? I eventually realized that Sheba was the reason. I had always seen her as the ideal friend, and part of what qualified her for that was her boundless patience for listening, for comforting. My friends came to me because I was mimicking my image of an ideal friend; I was simply being for them what Sheba had been for me.
She also had an endless love for being outside. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, she loved everything about the outdoors. When I was young, all the sensations of the outdoors were new and magical. There were bugs to catch in the summer, colorful leaves to find in the fall, huge icicles to pluck form the eaves in the winter, and flowers to gather in the spring. My parents were patient, but sometimes they grew tired of admiring all of my endless discoveries and adventures. But no matter what, Sheba was always happy to see what I had found, and none of it was silly to her. Together we examined the myriad of containers full of bugs I had wrangled, and she loved to see the frogs I caught in Mom’s garden. I liked to pick wildflowers for Mom, but sometimes I picked too many and she didn’t have enough vases. Whether or not Mom could accept them, Sheba would always give my bouquets an appreciative sniff. If I asked her to watch me make a wish on a dandelion, she would. Together, Sheba and I went swimming, we stalked deer in the field, we destroyed Dad’s leaf piles in the fall, and we learned how to navigate the woodlands behind my house like they were our second home. Sometimes, we would just lie out in the sun together and enjoy the warmth.
Nowadays, I feel most content and balanced when I’m outside. My mother and I frequent hiking trails in the summer, and my religion is centered around nature. Without the support of my partner I crime, my fellow adventurer, my patient companion, I don’t know if I ever would have come to love and appreciate nature as much as I do now.
More than anything in the world, even more than the outdoors, Sheba loved her family. Dad, Mom, and I were her three favorite people in the universe, and she was never ashamed to remind us of that. Sheba always had room for us in her schedule, and if we ever needed her she would drop everything in a heartbeat. Every morning she helped Dad see me off on the school bus when she could have been sleeping in. Every afternoon she was waiting outside with Mom for me to get off the bus, when she could have been at our neighbors’ houses visiting friends. When Dad asked her to do something, she would perform the task as if it were her only purpose in life. If Mom ever cried, she was often the first to give her a hug. And of course, no one was allowed to come through our door until Sheba had checked them and decided she could trust them with our safety.
I remember when I was very little, a toddler, I would step on Sheba, I’d hit her and pull her ears and face. I pushed her and threw my toys at her. Though sometimes I angered her she always tolerated me, and she never stopped loving me. Where she drew her endless reserves of patience from I’ll never know. But what I do know is friends, enemies, teachers, boyfriends, and such, they’re not permanent. They come and go. But family is as unmovable as a mountain, and no matter how crazy or weird or awkward a kinsmen might be, it’s part of our purpose in life to love them, support them, and make time for them. I know this because of how unconditionally and loyally Sheba loved us, right up until the day she died. Family always comes first.
These four lessons I have talked about are only a few things she taught me. Overall, I think I’ve learned enough from her to write a book. I’ve often thought about doing it. Perhaps I’d call it Lessons from Sheba, or What Sheba Left Behind. When I think of Sheba, I see her as the embodiment of wisdom; a strong, kind force that guided me often, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. She taught me valuable lessons and morals that are now a permanent part of me, and even now that she’s gone, I still look up to her as a role model.
Sheba was a black Labrador retriever, my first dog.