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This is the story of a dog named Hachikō, an Akita born on a farm near the city of Odate in Japan in 1923. The life of Hachikō conveys the wisdom of animals as expressed through their devotion.
The Story of Hachikō
By Mark Nepo
Hachikō lived with Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor of agriculture at the University of Tokyo. For a couple of years, Hachikō would meet Professor Ueno at the end of each day at the Shibuya railway station. But in May 1925, Professor Ueno suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died while Hachikō was waiting for him. Every day at the same time for the next nine years, Hachikō would make his way to the Shibuya station and wait.
As Hachikō kept returning to the spot where he last saw the one he loved, commuters brought treats to sustain him during his wait. Hachikō became a legend, and, as word of his devotion spread, teachers and parents told his story as an example of lasting love and friendship.
A year before Hachikō died, a sculpture was made of him and placed near the spot of his long wait. On March 8, 1935, Hachikō was found dead on the street in Shibuya near the station. Today, the place where Hachikō waited is marked with bronze paw prints, and the nearby statue shines from the wear of commuters petting it.
Recently, we drove to Crown Point, Indiana, to bring home our new dog, an eighteen-month-old yellow lab. It’s been over a year since our beloved Mira died. And to our surprise, this new dog has called to us. Our grief has been profound, cracking us open. In our own way, we’ve been returning like Hachikō to the spot where we last saw the one we loved. We were waiting like Hachikō, but unsure for what.
Then, on a gray February day, we awoke somewhere in between loss and life. We couldn’t imagine ever having another dog, and yet we couldn’t imagine living the rest of our lives without one. We weren’t sure if we were ready, but something under our grief said, “Go and see.”
Driving to Crown Point, I was stunned by how easily we’re transformed and rearranged by what we love. Softened by loss, our heart is imprinted with the shape of those we love for the rest of our days. And animals embody a secret that keeps us close to life. They remind me every day that each of us is about to happen.
We’re calling this little one Zuzu, after a character in the 1946 movie. It’s a Wonderful Life. Zuzu is the youngest daughter of the main character, George Bailey. She brings a flower home from school and is upset when a few petals fall. George pretends to reattach them while slipping them into his pocket. Later that night, when close to suicide, he’s shown how the world would be less if he’d never been born. Then he’s given a second chance by God to reattach himself to life. He returns to his family, unsure if his reckoning of the soul was just a desperate dream. But when he finds Zuzu’s petals in his pocket, he’s humbled to realize that all of it is true—the yearning, the turmoil, the letting go, and the grace.
Our Zuzu was a stray found on the streets of Kentucky, and her second chance is ours.
Questions to Walk With
• In conversation with a friend or loved one, describe a person, place, or time that you return to out of love like the loyal Akita Hachikō. Why do you do this? What does this personal pilgrimage bring to you and keep alive in you?
* * *Unwavering is excerpted from The Book of Soul: 52 Paths to Living What Matters by Mark Nepo, published by St. Martin’s Essentials, May 2020. For more about Mark Nepo, please check out MarkNepo.com or ThreeIntentions.com.“Hachikō …” Details about Hachikō ’s life are taken from Akita, The Treasure of Japan, Volume II by Barbara Bouyet. Hong Kong: Magnum Publishing, 2002, page 5-7. “Zuzu’s petals” Detail was drawn from the Urban Dictionary,
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