Heard melodies are sweet/but those unheard are sweeter.
I was in Paris this past fall, leading a group of people, which left me no room to bring a dog along. Yet the empty seat beside me on the plane where so often I’d slip my friend, lifting him or her up from the mesh travel bag stowed beneath the seat before me was, in its vacancy, full. So too was the spot under the chestnut trees where we stood and I gazed up at the two-toned leaves and she sniffed for other dogs’ marks. There was the little plastic container by the toilets that read “aux chiens” and was for “les chiens” to drink. And in my solitude, surrounded by hundreds of people strolling the same gardens I loved, I listened to the bells of St. Sulpice toll. These places and spaces were for me not hollow places filled only by sadness or longing, but rather by presence—the absence of my friends poignant, but my heart connected even more to their spirits—whether their physical bodies were still living or dead.
As I led my human group, explaining to them the city I love, I was humbled by history (and a bit overwhelmed). But I see now, although I’ve been either a student or teacher for the past forty-two years, my best teacher has not been the classroom or even my beloved books; my best teacher has always been life itself. And of course—full circle—my dogs. What my dogs teach me is simple. What they teach me is to stop talking and just listen. Be aware. And in Paris I was acutely aware of this and the beautiful absence so filled with their presence.
Over time my classroom has enlarged to include not only the wisdom of my patient friends and teachers, my dogs, but also my family, my friends, and my colleagues. My classroom has enlarged to include the wisdom of the trees and the rocks, the wisdom of sorrow and pain and of letting go; the wisdom of laughter, joy, peace, acceptance and simple presence.
Thank you, my dogs.