A snowscape. The long Minnesota prairies were covered in powdered sugar. A lone dirt highway cut through the cotton-white flatlands, which were featureless except for telephone poles, cattle fences, and an occasional muddy mail truck.
There was a small house seated on this horizon. A one-story, unassuming frame home, with a barn.
Inside this humble three-bedroom lives an elderly widow. She’s lonely. Hopelessly lonely. But then, this is a pandemic. We live in a new world, with new rules. Isolation is the prescribed way of life now, and it comes with consequences. What the virus took from her was her friendships. And her smile.
Not so long ago, she was going to church three times per week, reading Bible stories aloud to kids in Sunday school classrooms, teaching them to sing about Zacchaeus, who was a wee little man (and a wee little man was he).
Today, her church doesn’t hold services, except online. She hasn’t left the house in months. And she certainly hasn’t been singing.
Hard? Yeah, it’s been hard. Hardest period she’s ever known. As a lifelong farmer’s wife you’d think she was used to solitude. But nobody can truly prepare you for the social desolation following the loss of a spouse.
Neither does anyone forewarn you that loneliness will slow down your biology, or that your brain will begin firing less rapidly. But it’s true. Your body becomes tired, you have no appetite, you lose basic conversational skills, and your sense of self-image disappears. Sleep becomes a myth. So does laughter.
And the pandemic made it worse. No more supermarket runs; her groceries get delivered now. She has the internet, but the screens are making her eyes ache. She has satellite television, but nothing is ever on. She pays for approximately 529 streaming services, but she never watches them and can’t figure out how to cancel subscriptions. No more Sunday school songs. No more smiles.
In many ways these hard times have aged the woman. They have made her listless. Made her ragged. And I tell you all these things so that you can understand the enormity of what happened to her one afternoon a few months ago.
That day, the old woman peeked out her door and saw something sleeping on her porch. It was 16 degrees on the whistling snowscape, there was crystalline ice on her windows.
A tiny dog lay huddled against her house. He was small, wiry haired, tucked in a tight ball, back facing the wind, shivering. He wasn’t wearing a collar, there were ticks all over him. And there was something else. He was sick.
Sickened strays are not rare in the Minnesota countryside. Livestock farmers leave poison out for coyotes in food bowls. It’s tasteless poison, and fast-acting. Sometimes dogs eat it by accident and die before they even know what hit them.
She tried to invite the old boy inside, but the animal could not walk. So the woman lifted the tiny dog’s limp body. His little tongue was hanging out. His tail was slack.
When the animal was propped against the washing machine, she surrounded him with electric heaters and a heating blanket. But he wasn’t responding. He wasn’t eating or drinking. He was too weak to even wag.
That night she stayed beside him. And because she didn’t know how else to pass the time, she read aloud to him the way she used to do for her kids long ago.
She could see that he was listening to her voice because whenever she paused reading, he would raise his weary eyes to look at her. And she would continue.
He was getting worse. Much worse. She was positive there was no hope for this wee little creature. He could hardly keep his tiny eyes open. She called a veterinary doctor who said there was likely nothing to be done at this stage.
So the old woman spent Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday afternoon beside him. She kept her hands on his scruffy coat. She uttered prayers like, “God, take this tiny animal home.”
Or: “Let him die in peace.”
Or: “Don’t let him suffer.”
Monday evening she went to bed and was convinced he would be dead by morning. But early Tuesday, before sunrise, she awoke from a light sleep to a banging noise. It was a faint knocking sound. Like a soft bass drum.
She crawled out of bed, dressed herself in the international old-lady outfit—nightgown, housecoat, and slippers. When she opened the laundry room door she saw a canine tail gleefully banging against the dryer.
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
She didn’t mean to, but she started to weep when she saw his happy little face. Namely, because this old Sunday school teacher knows a true miracle when she sees one.
She fed him warm milk, soaked bread, cold cuts, cheese, smashed hotdogs, and any leftovers she had in the fridge. By the end of the day, he was walking around like nothing was wrong, eating crackers.
And something happened inside the old farmer’s wife’s heart. For the first time in months she felt like celebrating something. So she did exactly this.
She made spaghetti and meat sauce for supper, with a complicated salad, homemade vinaigrette, and garlic bread. She ate an apple hand pie for dessert. She drank wine. She watched a movie with her new friend beside her. She grinned until her cheeks hurt.
That was two months ago. Today her new pal has his own doggy bed, his own chew toys, rawhides, rubber Kongs filled with peanut butter, a stuffed UPS-man doll, and bags of organic dogfood which cost about as much as tactical government helicopters.
I asked the old woman if she ever settled on a name for this dog.
“Of course,” she said. “I named him Zacchaeus.”
Mike - February 3, 2021 6:21 am
You made my day , as usual ! I love you man !
Joan Golston - February 3, 2021 6:51 am
The capacity to love another can bring its own reward. A lesson in compassion, indeed. I want to believe this story is true.
Charaleen Wright - February 3, 2021 6:52 am
Nell Thomas - February 3, 2021 7:07 am
Wonderful story. Lucky little pup. So glad he found this sweet mommy.
Dolores S. Fort - February 3, 2021 7:37 am
We all have an innate desire and need to be needed. And we all have a need to be with others, not to be alone all the time. Loneliness can be a killer.
Leigh Amiot - February 3, 2021 8:49 am
I love a happy ending with a new beginning! Two lives saved!
Karen Erwin-Brown - February 3, 2021 9:22 am
up in the night and now I’m crying. Good one.
Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - February 3, 2021 10:09 am
This story made me smile – deep inside
oldlibrariansshelf - February 3, 2021 11:07 am
We all need someone to love. Thanks for this happy ending.
Jenny Young - February 3, 2021 11:24 am
Oh Sean…if she would like a penpal let me know. Writing letters us what has kept me going through the pandemic.
Michael F Milita - February 3, 2021 11:26 am
Thank you Sean
Susan - February 3, 2021 11:36 am
I too am an old woman and I LOVE this. Thank you
Paul S Gawrych - February 3, 2021 11:57 am
Absolutely beautiful! Thanks Sean.
Tammy S. - February 3, 2021 12:02 pm
Christine - February 3, 2021 12:12 pm
Beautiful story that love wins❤
Bobbie - February 3, 2021 12:13 pm
I knew would be a happy ending otherwise Couldn’t have finished reading. Oh Sean, what a beautiful picture you wrote and with a heart as beautiful as your words! I’m sure many others, including myself, have this unconditional love that brings them thru many a hard time. I have a couple friends who don’t like dogs…what’s wrong with them??
Thank you again for getting in touch every day, rain or shine, especially now in this new world we live in. By the way, I love your new commercial….
Next, we’ll be seeing you in a movie…the story of your life maybe? That would be awesome.
God bless you and your sweet family ❤️
Jean - February 3, 2021 12:15 pm
oh I love this story!!!
Kristine Miller - February 3, 2021 12:37 pm
Please don’t ever stop writing. These absolutely make my day.
Robert Smyth - February 3, 2021 12:37 pm
Wonderful story. I live in a retirement home; we have been in lockdown since late last Feb. I and the other 380+ know how that feels. We are not allow to have others in our rooms and when out of our rooms must maintain 6″ distance. Wish I had a dog
Jan-e - February 3, 2021 12:46 pm
That dog, my dear, is a major God wink.
Joey - February 3, 2021 12:57 pm
Don’t know if it’s a wink, but definitely a God-hug!
Suzie - February 3, 2021 1:05 pm
Heartwarming 💕…such a lovely story 😊
Jan - February 3, 2021 1:07 pm
Another home run! Love all of your stories but as another old woman who adopted a hungry, scared, stray kitten who hiked up my mountain, this story hits close to home. Thanks, Sean!
Margaret E Odell - February 3, 2021 1:21 pm
As an older widow myself, I pray this is a true story!
Julie Messick - February 3, 2021 1:42 pm
Beautiful…we all need a reason to be. Thank you for a beautiful story.
Heidi - February 3, 2021 2:11 pm
Sitting here in my old lady robe and so thankful I have a husband and big, crazy dog to hug. So very glad your friend & Zacc found each other with a little God help.❤️
Sharon Richmond - February 3, 2021 2:20 pm
Thank you 💕
Lori - February 3, 2021 2:26 pm
Oh, Sean! You have touched my heart with your story. I have not been able to hug my poor mom since March of last year, only FaceTime.
Thank you for the sweetness and laughter you bring to my day.
Rose Fey - February 3, 2021 2:28 pm
One word describes this….. PRECIOUS ✝️❤️✝️
Laurel F. Johnson - February 3, 2021 2:37 pm
Sean, what a blessing! You really touched my heart with this one. Sean YOU are a blessing.
Helen De Prima - February 3, 2021 2:53 pm
I don’t know how anyone can be fully happy without a pet. Kids who grow up with pets have fewer allergies because of early exposure, adults who live alone have someone waiting when they come home, and old folks have friends who never complain or criticize. A dear friend who died recently was able to take her cat to the nursing home with her, a wonderful comfort in her final days and a great favorite among the staff and other patients.
Susan Ellen Wagner - February 3, 2021 3:10 pm
I can relate to the ‘old woman’. The pandemic @ x sucks the life out of me!!! My husband still works so I m home alone a lot! But, we have 4 little fur babies, 2 small dogs and 2 kitties…they always cheer me up! They r blessings from God, I love them and they love me!
Bill - February 3, 2021 3:14 pm
Another great story, Sean. Man was not created to live alone. You can bet on that!
Becca - February 3, 2021 3:16 pm
Sean, I read your column every morning during my prayer time – you show the goodness, kindness and joy in this world instead of ‘Big Media’s GLOOM AND DOOM, Everybody’s gonna die’ headlines! I wonder how Big Media journalists (?) can get up each day with the gloomy stuff they write! Please keep writing your uplifting stories! Also, love your commercials and would like to see a movie of your
Life! It would be awesome! God bless you and Jamie!
Bill - February 3, 2021 3:24 pm
Couldn’t agree more. Much to much gloom and doom. It almost sounds like they are encouraging it. But then we have to remember they are are selling news, not reporting it.
Ginny - February 3, 2021 3:25 pm
So love this. Zacchaeus :-). Thank you!
Beryl - February 3, 2021 3:30 pm
This story reminds me of the importance of getting outside oneself by helping another, in this case a dog. It strips us of all self-pity, remorse, longing, and lamenting for other times. The BELOVED taps us on the shoulder often. It resides within, not without. Love is everywhere.
Ron Mahn - February 3, 2021 3:39 pm
Resurrection occurs in many forms observable and camouflaged, external and internal, measurable and immeasurable … simply because compassion and commitment works that way!
Displacedsoutherner - February 3, 2021 3:41 pm
Your stories warm my soul during this long cold winter.
Katie - February 3, 2021 3:44 pm
Loved it, loved it, loved it!
Dell Corley - February 3, 2021 4:09 pm
Barbar - February 3, 2021 4:35 pm
What a sweet, sweet story. You have a wonderful gift in your writing. Thank you. That was inspiring and as an older woman, I can relatte
Barbara - February 3, 2021 4:38 pm
What a beautiful story. You are a gifted writer
DiAn - February 3, 2021 5:10 pm
Sean – And all God’s children said, AMEN! – Thank you for this – your columns are sunshine and warmth on a Cloudy and cold February Day. – Bless you!
Teri Pittman - February 3, 2021 5:50 pm
Yep, I’m crying too. it’s been a year since my husband died and two months since I had to put down a beloved dog due to cancer. I still work from home, like i’ve done for years. Everything that I would do to move on with my life is still shut down. But I have two dogs and a cat left. And I am going to get moved out of here, this spring, no matter what it takes.
Chasity Davis Ritter - February 3, 2021 6:09 pm
This one really made me smile. I love it!!’
MAM - February 3, 2021 6:38 pm
Happy tears! Thanks, Sean. You always tell your stories in such a charming and can’t quit reading style!
Tim House - February 3, 2021 7:26 pm
It seems they saved each other, and thank God! Loved it.
Sue Cronkite - February 3, 2021 7:59 pm
Wonderful post filled with love and hope!
Bill in Tennessee - February 3, 2021 8:06 pm
This is quite possibly the most gratifying entry I’ve read by you in a long time, Sean. Thanks, I totally understand it.
Nelson Russell - February 3, 2021 8:20 pm
Wonderful story about the lady and the dog, but one particular line hit me very hard: “But nobody can truly prepare you for the social desolation following the loss of a spouse.” I lost my wife in December of 2019 and truer words cannot be said. It has been a lonely 13 months, but luckily I have my daughter and her family close.
Thank you for you daily write-ups. I read each one and truly enjoy them.
Linda Moon - February 3, 2021 9:48 pm
Hopeless. One of the worst words to read or think about. There is a difference in “lonely” and “alone”. Alone is a state of being. Loneliness is a state of mind. For me, alone can be very good. Loneliness is not so good. And I simply cannot…..repeat, CANNOT live without laughter. I see aging in my face, not just from the consequences of gratefully still being alive to have grown older, but something else that’s different related to the consequences of pandemic problems. Pet Pals make my heart celebrate, and stories like this one do, too, Writer!
Annie Sommers - February 3, 2021 9:48 pm
So wonderful. My little dog keeps me going. Sometimes I just sit and watch her because she is my miracle. God sent her to me. Yes she is adopted and I have had her for 8 years. Sean, you touch my heart every day.
Alice - February 4, 2021 12:43 am
Oh Sean what a beautiful story!So very happy for her and that fur baby they both found each other God bless her❤️❤️
Dru Brown - February 4, 2021 6:02 am
Lucretia Jones - February 4, 2021 10:43 am
Fantastic, Sean. A peaceful prayer for the woman, wee dog, and you.
Bob Brenner - February 5, 2021 1:01 am
Heartwarming story ❤️
Dawnie B - February 5, 2021 5:43 am
They needed each other 💕 Thank you for sharing!
Ann - February 5, 2021 6:19 am
Stars in your crown, Sean. I loved it, loved it, loved it !!
JohnV - February 5, 2021 2:27 pm
Another Great Story!
Have you heard the theory that some dogs are actually angels sent down from God to help specific people (since cats are dogs mortal, or is it “moral”, enemies I will leave you to draw your own conclusion about where some cats come from)? Sounds like Zacchaeus just might be the proof for that theory!
Julie - February 14, 2021 2:47 pm
Make room in the Bible for space to add this column to Luke 19: 1-10‼️
Marilu - February 18, 2021 1:49 am
Hit home. I love my dog. Best company ever.