Saturday, November 01, 2003

A Dog Torn Heart

It's Halloween and I'm not quite sure what God is doing. I'm really not sure what He's been up to this past month and a half. Perhaps he was really tied up with painting the mountains with gold and red and orange or dabbing the sky with autumnal sunrises and sunsets. I know how self-absorbing artwork can be. He could have been really busy with all that California fire stuff. Maybe He was propping up the Pope's failing health. Or perhaps He just took to His big ole divine bed in distress over the Middle East situation. All I know, is that He's really dropped a few pegs in my eyes and has dropped the ball on the whole omniscient/omnipotent thing He had going.

There was a small soul here in East Tennessee that needed Him. This little guy had seen a world of hurt in his short six and a half years. He'd finally landed in a soft spot about two years ago and it seemed his troubles were over. He did nothing but bring joy to the world around him with his handsome looks, sweet nature and giving soul.

I speak of my much loved cocker spaniel, Hi-Lite. My little guy passed on to the Rainbow Bridge on Wednesday, October 29, 2003. He'd been battling hemangiosarcoma for a month and a half. On his last day, he looked at me with those shining, liquid eyes and I knew it was time. I took my sweet boy to the vet and I put him down before the worst of the cancer took hold of him. It's the hardest thing I've done since my mother died.

Folks around here don't quite get it. How I can be ravaged by such intense grief over one small dog. Dogs and animal life are cheap here. Maybe it's because life is so hard for people that there just isn't enough grief to spread around to animals and such. I'm not sure, but I'm pretty much alone up here with the beating of my torn up heart.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a wonderful poem called, "The Power of The Dog", in which he asked an important rhetorical question.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve.
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long—
So why in—Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Kipling was well aware of the answer, as are most of us who gladly and freely give our hearts to a dog to tear. The joy and happiness they bring, when allowed to fully express their part in the human/animal bond, surpasses even the healthiest human relationships. It's the only place on this plane that we can truly be assured of achieving that holiest of holies…unconditional love.

Let's face it. We human beings are lousy at this sort of love. Even the most sacred of human bonds, the mother/child relationship is fraught with failures. Ask any social worker. But for some strange reason, this goofy offshoot of the wolf family excels in this sort of love.

I remember my Chow-Chow, Cockleburr. I rescued her from a dreadful situation where she was abandoned by people who beat and kicked her. It was a long hard road to gain her trust, but once I did, we shared a special bond. One day, one of her former owners came to visit her. Cockleburr remembered this narrow eyed, mean woman and fawned like her long lost friend had returned. I was consumed with jealousy…and not the sort that makes you want to butt someone's head out of the way.

It is indeed a special sort of soul that can forgive with that sort of magnanimity. I recognize my own limitations in this department and adopt the dog as my emotional role model. If only I could be as emotionally available and forgiving as my dog…then I would truly be a remarkable person.

Folks like to point out that Dog is God spelled backwards. I think there might be something to that. Actually, if I may be somewhat heretical, I harbor a belief that the love one receives from one's dog may be the closest example we have to divine love on Earth. It is most certainly more tangible. There is no confusion in a dog's love. One doesn't have to parrot to one's self or congregation ad nauseum that Dog LOVES you. There is no evidence to the contrary that Dog doesn't love you. There are no bumper stickers proclaiming "DOG LOVES YOU". Sadly, we are surrounded with nagging suspicions and some pretty solid evidence that God might not like us as much as we think He does.

Mrs. Busbee has been missing my Saturday visits during Hi-Lite's illness. I couldn't leave his side during his last two weeks. We lay on the sofa during the day and watched the fire burn in the woodstove. I stroked his back trying to commit to memory the silken texture of his fur. I wanted that memory to be burned into the skin of my hand, so I could remember it like a poem written many times. Now that he is gone, his softness burns like a brand on my soul.

I buried my baby high on the mountain near the garden overlooking the frog pond. It was there that he so loved to course through the race trails hunting for small forbidden creatures. He'd hear my call from the house and dash through the wood, swim across the pond …racing through the tall grass to the sound of my voice. His long golden fur would be muddy and peppered with beggar-lice. The dismay in my voice would be met with a happy, rascally grin.

I loved him more than tongue can tell and will not see his like again on this earth.

When Mrs. Busbee called me during these past two weeks, it was clear that she couldn't relate to exactly what I was going through. She spoke of the death of her husband and how afterwards the two dogs they shared seemed to grieve and fade away. How she lost two cows. I recognized her struggle to relate to my sadness, but finally she had to fall back on the old standby.

"Trust in God," she said, "You can talk to him when you cain't talk with no one else."

Unfortunately, God and I are not on speaking terms right now. I've decided we best just not talk until one or both of us calms down a bit. It will probably be me who first breaks the silence. He'll show me some unexpected bit of wonder or hope and I'll start babbling like a fascinated child.

But I won't forget this betrayal. It is a human failing, this poverty of forgiveness. When next I meet with my happy golden boy, we will march with purpose to God's house.

Together we will stand and howl in unison, "WHY?"