A week or so ago, when we were outside playing chase, Lincoln yelled excitedly, “MOM, we’re westing!!!” I stopped running, looked at him. “Wrestling? Running? Racing?” “No, Mom, westing!!!” I had no idea, and he got frustrated I didn’t understand, so we all let it go and kept playing.
Then the next day we were out driving and a car passed us and he yelled again, “Look, we’re westing!” “…….OK!” I said. And then again a night or so later, when he was playing with the cars on his bed. “See, now the cars are westing, Mom.” And as he did it a couple of times with his cars, back and forth, I finally understood.
When we got to Okinawa, one of our favorite places was a tiny ramen restaurant a block from our house. It had three tables and that night they got busier than they had room, so we offered to share tables with the American couple next to us. Through conversation and a few drinks, we heard the story about how they had picked up a stray dog and how they could not find where she belonged. A sweetheart, they said, and no one had responded to the lost dog posters. We had been recreationally looking for a dog, and she fell into our lap, almost literally, from how close we had to sit around the table.
We went and picked her up and named her Mina (after the heroine in Dracula who perseveres despite her constant drawing of the darkness) and we did the long, slow integration of trying to fit a previously mistreated, previously stray dog into a family. She avoided the stairs for a week, and even after five years with us, cringed whenever we moved too fast around her. She barked fiercely and fought large dogs that were twice her size, and shied away from chihuahuas. She panicked when a fly flew past her, and unquestionably accepted any stranger that entered the house.
I did the hard work of getting her from Japan to Hawaii, including the stringent rabies requirements and paperwork in Japanese that I barely understood, we walked her on the only patch of dirt and dry grass in the Tokyo airport before her twelve hour flight, and once in Hawaii we Mina-proofed the fence in our yard since she was still so skinny she could fit through the eight inches underneath. (Well, we tried to Mina-proof it.) And we found the best airline and paid her fare for her to come over to Illinois early, so she would be waiting for us when we got back from Newfoundland.
And two weeks after she got here, while we were still in blizzard covered Canada, she disappeared, she ran away. Having always been chained (I assume she was by her abusive owners before us) and then in fenced yards and on leashes afterwards, she didn’t quite know what to do with the freedom of rural Illinois, and when we looked away, she was gone.
It was still cold, and on these highways here the cars speed double what she was used to on the slow islands where she spent most of her time, and sometimes when I am out driving I still look for her, hoping I don’t see her huddled on the side of the road, or wonder if she was carried away by the coyotes, an animal she would have definitely not been able to predict.
But mostly, I like to think that our paths crossed for just a while, and she must have had other places to be. That we needed each other for a while, her to be right there when we needed her, to be with me when Joe worked the long hours and weekends, and to teach my boys about caring for animals. And I think we were what she needed to escape whatever she had been through before, to escape even across the world.
So when I think of Mina and the few years we spent together, I come back to Lincoln and his words, his definitions. Westing: the act of two things passing each other going opposite directions.
It’s just one whole long life of moments when we are moving one way and someone else is moving the next and we meet in the middle for just a second, or maybe an hour, or a year, or five. Through and to and past and together. I don’t know if any language has a specific word for that, but here in our family, we call it westing.