Every Moment Matters: Savoring the Stuff of Life

Every Moment Matters: Savoring the Stuff of Life

by John St.Augustine

Small slices of time go unnoticed. You go about your day, never realizing how much information missed moments contain. They are packed with lessons about living life to its fullest.

John St.Augustine can teach you how to notice these ordinary moments. Remember them. Relive them. Live in the present while creating future moments that have depth, meaning, and

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Small slices of time go unnoticed. You go about your day, never realizing how much information missed moments contain. They are packed with lessons about living life to its fullest.

John St.Augustine can teach you how to notice these ordinary moments. Remember them. Relive them. Live in the present while creating future moments that have depth, meaning, and purpose. Through anecdotes from his own life, St. Augustine demonstrates how to turn ordinary moments into extraordinary ones.

Be still. Pay attention. Find the moments that matter.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his latest, self-help author St. Augustine (Living an Uncommon Life: Essential Lessons from 12 Extraordinary People) examines the individual instances that have meant much to him, encouraging readers to do the same for themselves: "while the journey has been one of discipline and self-examination my life (and I suspect yours, too) is filled with moments that... taught me something, made me stop alive in my tracks, had me catch my breath." These moments are universal but predictable; one of St. Augustine's first examples is the death of his beloved dog Jake, a time of deep sadness that nevertheless made him realize the value of the companionship, unconditional love, fun, and adventure his pet provided. Another section finds him recalling a decades-old Colorado hiking trip with his friend David, on which he learned that "there is more than one way to reach the top, that it's good to have a buddy along for support, and that those who have gone before you often ... make the climb a bit more manageable." Though his ruminations tend top be wordy (bordering on mundane self-absorption), St. Augustine makes an eager guide to the importance of reflection and mindfulness.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date:
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5.20(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.50(d)

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Every Moment Matters

Savoring the Stuff of Life

By John St. Augustine

Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 John St. Augustine
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57174-589-7


Big Jake

What is it about our furred and feathered friends that gets so inside us? Perhaps it's an ancient connection from a time when the only thing between our ancestors and being the next meal for a saber-toothed tiger was a barking dog. Maybe it's the majesty of the pharaohs and the godlike qualities assigned to the forbears of the common housecat that bring a little royalty into our otherwise drab existence. For dog people, it's coming home and knowing that, no matter how your day went, Rover will accept you just the way you are. For cat lovers, it might be their air of aristocracy that makes us feel a little royal when we need it most. My life has been filled with great animal friends and guides, and I am a better human because of those that swim, crawl, walk, and fly. In particular, a very large boxer named Jake gave me some incredible moments.

* * *

I knew it the moment my eyes connected with those brown orbs behind the steel bars that he was coming home with me. The cage was in the corner of the living room. The woman was explaining to me that he was kept in this small prison most of the time because she had two little kids, and the dog was her husband's idea. A couple of bags of cheap dog food in the kitchen alluded to his bony condition, and as we spoke, it felt like this beautiful brindle boxer, with the pointed ears and stub for a tail, was silently pleading for me to set him free. Being a maverick myself, I understood his distaste for confinement, and I thought about how everything had lined up to make this happen. It was just a week earlier when I had called a shelter about the possibility of someone giving up a boxer for adoption. At first, the woman laughed at the thought of a purebred being let go for the cost of shots or a donation to the shelter. But as with things that are meant to be, there he was not five feet away, waiting for someone to come.

"So you will take Jake and give him a good home?" the woman asked tentatively, as she held one of her kids. The other one was using a chair for a diving board into the couch.

"Why do you call him Jake?" I asked.

"Nine months ago, when we brought him home, the movie Big Jake with John Wayne was on, and it seemed to fit." I wasn't sure if it was the dog's features or his swagger that resembled The Duke, but either way, the name had a ring to it.

"I will make sure that Jake has a great life," I replied. And with that the cage was opened, the prisoner was set free, and out the door we went. I had taken the back seat out of my Jeep and piled it with blankets in anticipation of this event, and in one graceful bound, Jake found his place in my truck and in my heart.

I watched him in the mirror as we drove back to the city. He was curled up in the same fashion as in the cage; for such a big dog, he had learned to become very small. The whole time we drove, he did not move and kept his brown eyes fixed on me. I felt like I had saved not only his life but also mine somehow. I was all of twenty-two years young at the time, proudly serving in the aviation wing of the United States Coast Guard. I was the quintessential All-American, with blond hair, blue eyes, a square jaw, and a life filled with sports and adventure. It seemed fitting that I have a dog that would somehow round out my existence. I was living with a young woman and had cleared the way for the possibility that I would be coming home with a dog. The landlord was a little harder to convince, and I think it was my volunteering to add fifty bucks to the rent each month that helped him say yes. As we bounced along the road to Chicago, I knew somehow deep inside that Jake was here to stay.

He took to the small two-room apartment in quick fashion, checking out every nook and cranny. I had not asked if he was housebroken, and it took less than five minutes to find out when he decided the file cabinet in the corner looked like a fire hydrant. We decided that the second bedroom would be his, and we set up a dog bed and feeding area, along with an assortment of things to keep him busy, such as rubber balls, a chew bone the size of a baseball bat, latex pull toys, and an old towel. As night drew near, Jake was the king of the castle. There were no steel bars to keep him from wandering his domain and nothing but love from his subjects, mainly me. The first night, Jake slept quietly on his throne as if he had been there forever. However, I was soon to find out that not every night would be like this one.

While I had cleared Jake off base, I still had to find a way to have him with me on the base, and that was going to take some time. So I walked him twice before I left for the day, made sure that he had plenty of food and water, and gave him free rein of the apartment. This went pretty well for a couple of weeks outside of the occasional deposit on the floor or chewed magazine in the rack—just normal dog stuff. All that came to a screeching halt one night.

I had parked my truck on the street in front of the apartment about a half-block down from where I lived. As I got out and began to walk toward the front door, I could hear a sound that was a cross between thunder and the vibration a saw makes when in the hands of a master player. Just as I reached the corner of the building, I looked up to the second floor where we lived. The huge plate-glass front window was bouncing like a trampoline! Not good. I bounded up the stairs and opened the door just in time to see Jake sprinting at full speed in a circle, using the three walls and front window as launch points for his act. He was in full gallop when I entered and yelled, "JAKE!" The boxer took one last leap off the far wall, spun into the middle of the room like some hairy circus acrobat, and stopped dead in his tracks, panting and drooling, with a look of exhaustion on his mug. I surveyed the damage.

The three giant plants my girlfriend had been growing for the past couple of years were totally dug up and out of their pots, and most of the dirt from them had been pushed into a pile under the corner of the rug, making a considerable bulge. Every magazine was out of the rack and either chewed on or drooled on, topped off with toilet paper that Jake had somehow managed to pull all the way into the living room without breaking it as it was still connected to the roll. The two designer pillows on the couch had become punching bags and had only half their stuffing. The rest of it was strewn about on the floor like snow. Various items from the garbage littered the hallway, indicating that the carnage also included the kitchen.

As I waded through the living room with my jaw hanging open in amazement, Jake plopped down smack dab in the middle of the mess and fell asleep. I turned the corner and peeked into the kitchen. The garbage can had been knocked over and spilled onto the floor. Somehow, Jake had managed to open the cabinets under the sink. He had then proceeded to pull out a squirt bottle of lighter fluid I kept for barbecuing, sunk his teeth into it, and shaken the flammable liquid out all over the walls. Other items that did not escape intact included a half-eaten box of SOS pads, four or five rubber gloves, and an entire bottle of laundry detergent that was leaking in the corner. I hesitated to inspect the premises further, but knew that with less than an hour to clean up, I needed to get moving.

The bathroom just had a couple of towels on the floor, and my bedroom door had been closed, which left Jake's room the only remaining property. The door was half-closed, and I timidly opened it fully and flipped on the light. Holy crap. The two sliding doors on the closet were knocked in, and four or five pairs of shoes were pulled out, half of them chewed to bits. Both filing cabinets were on their sides. The inside information remained safe from the marauding canine, but ample scratch marks indicated that Jake had given it his all. Pencils were chomped, rulers were wrecked, and calendars were crushed on impact. To top it all off, the only things untouched in the room were, of course, the doggie toys.

I failed to clean, replace, and reconstruct the apartment before my girlfriend got home. It's tough to wipe out the smell of lighter fluid once it has seeped into the rug, and no matter how much I fluffed the pillows, there was just not enough fluff to go around. The plants got back into their respective pots, but for the rest of it, a large garbage bag was the best recourse. A week or so prior to the explosion, I had traded in my Jeep for a Dodge pickup with a cab on the back, and while Jake (and I) were filled with remorse, he was banished to the back of the vehicle for the rest of the night. I threw in a couple of blankets and some chow that would keep him busy I had not been in the apartment more than five minutes when I heard "Wooooo ... wooooooooooooo!" Jake was expressing his displeasure by doing what his ancestors had done for centuries: howling at the moon or, at least, me.

I resisted the inevitable trip down the block as long as possible, until I was convinced that he was going to howl until either I showed up or the neighbors called the cops. I went bounding out of bed, down the hallway, and down the street at near midnight, intent on keeping him quiet. No such luck. After what I thought was a reasonable request, filled with promises of dog treats if he was good and the threat of banishment to some far-off dog work camp if he wasn't, I watched him slowly fall asleep, apparently worn out from a full day of damage and howling. I closed the cab door, walked back to my apartment, and fell asleep. The silence lasted maybe six minutes. THAT's IT! I thought. I grabbed a newspaper and rolled it up to swat the howler, flew down the stairs, out the door, and down the block. I yanked open the cab door and, in one fell swoop, took a swing at Jake's hindquarters. He was only a foot away, but he somehow felt the blow coming, and moved in the nick of time. I missed him entirely and only succeeded in jamming two fingers into the metal of the side of the truck. Now I was the one howling ... in pain!

Jake cowered in the corner of the truck, sensing that somehow his vocal efforts had caused this. I surveyed the situation. If I leave him out here, he is going to howl all night; I can't bring him in because my girlfriend would be one unhappy camper. There was only one choice. I snuck back into the apartment, grabbed a couple of blankets and a pillow, and proceeded to join my furry friend in his mobile motel room on a Chicago side street in the middle of the night. Good thing it was summer. Strangely, that night was a preview of things to come.

Eventually, Jake made it on the airbase and became a bit of a mascot, with full rein to come and go as he pleased. It was always a great sight to see him take off in a full sprint in chase of a softball that had been hit or find him sleeping on top of a "mule" (the small, heavy-duty tractors we used to push and pull helicopters out of the hangar). He walked the parking lot and hallways as the undisputed lord of the manor, and we spent many a summer's day just hanging out as only man and dog can do. My picture had become complete, but it didn't last as long as I had hoped. My girlfriend and I went our separate ways, with me moving to the base temporarily and, more specifically, to the back of my truck at night to sleep while waiting for base housing. There we were, the two of us for an entire summer and part of the fall, in my Dodge Power Wagon, sleeping side by side. While it was a stressful time, looking back now, I realize I loved it. And so did Jake.

We bounced around a bit, and with just about a year to go on my enlistment, I really needed to clear my head about future plans. I decided to go to Colorado to visit an aunt (a story you will find in this book as well). With a heavy heart and impending changes in my life that did not seem to include my now 110-pound boxer, I found a family to take him while I went away and, if it worked out, forever. The day I dropped him off, one of their kids was having a birthday party in the yard, and I clearly remember walking Jake back to the event, making small talk with the new owners who assured me they were thrilled to have him, and then slowly backing out the way I came in. I watched Jake romping with the kids, eating cake, and chasing balloons. Once I hit the gangway, I turned and hurried down the path, unable to see the next step for the tears that poured down my face. At that point, he had not been away from my side for four years, and I felt like a part of me had been torn away.

I followed my plans for Colorado, knowing that Jake was in good hands, but it was a phone call from my sister on the second-to-last day of my trip that got me on the next flight back to Chicago. "The people that have Jake said if you don't come and get him, they are going have him sent to a kennel or put to sleep. He won't stop howling, and they can't handle him." Part of me smiled inside, but another part thought, What am I going to do with him? I retrieved Jake from the family, he took his proper place in the back of my Jeep, and we made do together until my enlistment ended (which brought a new set of challenges). I had talked with my parents, and they agreed I could stay back at the ranch until I found work or went back to finish my degree, but Jake was not an option. My mother had more cats than I could count and an aging Lab with horrible hips. Last thing they wanted was a howling hundred-pound-plus bundle of muscle and energy.

So, for the second time in less than a year, Jake was given a new home, picked up by a woman who professed to be a boxer aficionado. It lasted less than three days, and he was back with me in my old bedroom. We both promised the folks we would be good, and that I would replace anything he might devour (cats excepted). It was as if Jake was finally home. He became the willing target for the cat army as they launched attacks from all sides, but he knew his superior size and power had to be kept in check as they toyed with him. Jake and the Lab, "O-G," were reluctant housemates, with Jake deferring to the old man when it came to food and water and who ate first. As the Lab grew older and feebler, it was Jake who stood guard over him in case any intruder (real or imagined) would disturb his sleep. When O-G's time came to go across the Rainbow Bridge, Jake slumped around the house for weeks. In time, he took his place at the foot of my dad's chair.

Eventually, my life changed dramatically, as I got married and the kids arrived. I would see Jake whenever I could, and we would take walks up and down the block just like we did years earlier. As Jake's twelfth year rolled around, he had trouble walking and holding his bowels, and the decision I dreaded had to be made. It was time.

We went to the forest preserve first, and as best he could, Jake went from tree to tree and even made an attempt to gallop across a field like he did our first summer together at the airbase. I gave him a few bites of his favorite human food—doughnuts—and finally made my way to the vet. The appointment had been made earlier for his date with destiny, and I left him in the car to check in. When I went back out the door to fetch him, there he sat, strong and upright in the passenger seat, knowing what was coming by the look on his face. His eyes were bright and smiling as if to say, "I know."

What followed was nothing short of heart-wrenching for me as they put my big dog up on the shiny metal table and steadied his foreleg for the injection that would bring permanent sleep. I held his head in both my hands, kissed the spot between his eyes, and rubbed his favorite spot by the slope of his nose. One breath later, he was gone. There I was, a six-foot-two, two-hundred-pound, sobbing mass of sadness. I am not ashamed to inform you that, as I recount and write this chapter, tears are streaming down my face as if all of this happened just moments ago. I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, they have.

I was inconsolable for days, and the mere sight of his leash or collar would send me into deep sadness. And then, about a week later, I picked up Jake's ashes and headed out to the woods to deposit a little bit of him there. I knelt at one of his favorite trees, carved out a small hole in the ground, and began to pour the ash into my hand and then into the ground. That is when the moment caught me. While Jake's physical presence was missed deeply, I realized that what I had really lost was who I was when he was with me. It was the sense of companionship, the unconditional love, the fun, and the adventure; sleeping in the back of the truck, wading through rivers, camping in Florida, and watching in wonder as he slept at my feet; just the two of us, living side by side. It was the true meaning of friendship, one of us giving commands and the other commanding me with his look, his giving of a paw, or licking my hands. It was give and take, back and forth. Perfect balance.


Excerpted from Every Moment Matters by John St. Augustine. Copyright © 2009 John St. Augustine. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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