"Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…" -Joni Mitchell
Last fall, as the leaves were at the height of their color glory, I had the life-altering experience of visiting The Dog Chapel in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. It's a truly awe-inspiring place… every inch of every wall covered with pictures, poems, and prayers to dogs from those who called them family. I spent hours wandering from letter to tear-stained letter, my heart aching at the beauty of so much love…
Almost as inspiring as the chapel is the man who built it. After a near-death experience in 1994, Stephen Huneck awoke from a 2-month long coma talking incessantly about a dream he had to create The Dog Chapel. While others laughed, he and his wife Gwen started building what has become the nation's – if not the world's – most sacred monument to man's best friend.
So it was with a heavy heart and much confusion that I read recently about Stephen's passing by his own hand.
How could someone with so much to give believe that he had so little to lose?
Despair is a dangerous devil. It often sneaks in when you least expect it, and like a virus, grows exponentially and frequently undetected. Thriving on loneliness and isolation, it whisks away the perspective of even the most positive and productive, painting the transient and circumstantial in our lives with the opaque perception of failure, misery, and inalterable tragedy.
That day at the chapel, I had the chance to talk with Stephen and Gwen, and was so inspired by their love, their passion, their generosity... their having things so 'figured out'. Was the seed of his choice present then and there? Was there anything that could have been done or said to steer him off of that course?
I don't know, and can't begin to speculate. But I do know that Huneck's passing serves as an important reminder to us all to take care of one another. No matter how things look on the outside, people we both love and don't know are hurting inside. A smile, a hug, a compliment… mere words and actions from us might mean the difference between life and death to someone else.
Let us all walk through the world with a greater sense of care for one another. We are indeed our brothers' keepers.