Lessons From My Dogs
Who hasn’t known loss? Once past a certain age it befalls us all. Physics, nature, call it whatever, but call it certain. Yet perhaps only past a certain age do we begin to accept and understand it for what it is, beyond mere certainty, and even sense its value. For, if logically loss must follow life, then inevitably life follows loss.
Books and articles are written on death and loss, I won’t add to these, but will instead write of analogous worries and fears (losses in themselves, for they are but the loss of our well being) and the corresponding lessons they teach us about continuity.
How often have we pet owners experienced the aching heartache of our animal friends in pain or feeling sick? The nagging impotence and the yearning for the day or week before when all was well, wishing that we’d enjoyed the moment with Mittens or Jackson more instead of worrying about getting things done or rushing into town. And now, while last week seemed dismal with mounting bills, we’d welcome it back in a heartbeat compared to this. The beseeching look in our friend’s eyes, the obvious pain as he walks, and worst of all the uncertainty of not understanding what is wrong with him.
My two dogs Flash and Chance became sick, though both unrelated, within days of each other and I experienced the accompanying agony of worrying, thinking the worst and hurting because they were. After trips to the vets with Chance for pneumonia and spondylitis, where I felt I was ignoring Flash, we were for a brief few days all better again. Then on a poignant fall day, Flash became lethargic and wouldn’t walk. His gums were okay, his eyes bright, and his nose cold, so I assumed he merely felt tired and didn’t care to walk. A dachshund, he is prone to back trouble. I headed out the door with Chance who hadn’t exercised for days and let her hunt through the tall grasses of autumn.
When we reached the top of a hill, the beauty overwhelmed me. Red dogwoods against a clear blue sky, light clouds, our feet walking softly across a newly seeded field. It was beautiful but my heart cried for Flash. Feeling anxious, I wanted to get home. But in the next moment I knew I’d be back here again with a healthy Flash and Chance and I knew finally not to waste the moment I was in. Easier said than done when someone you love is absent or hurting, but I tried to enjoy the walk and the day as best as I could with Chance. It was a moment that so often comes, and is more palatable, in retrospect, but I was experiencing in its midst. Just as three years ago I had lost one dog and not replaced, but gained, another in the way of life’s continuum, so too would this current little blip in well-being resolve itself in the way it’s supposed to. In other words, from realizing I could withstand and overcome great loss, I was able to know that the small upsets would right themselves and were but a part of a larger, wonderful continuity of life. There is that word the Arabs use: Maktoum, which means “It is written.” While no fatalist, I do believe to a larger extent, it’s not what we want--clamoring, striving and trying to control life’s events--but what the Universe wants. When we are able to see the greater picture, the smaller upsets disappear.
Driving to work that evening, I felt sorrow. Without conscious thought, I formed a picture of myself walking with a healthy Flash and Chance.
The very next day, Flash was fine, his old self again and together he and Chance and I set off for a beautiful fall walk. The wind was cold and crisp, yet the sun beamed down on us. The brown leaves crunched under my shoes. The dogs rooted around in the low bushes as I beheld great clarity on this perfect fall day. When we got to the top of the hill I felt like the king of the hill as I walked this time with both Flash and Chance, aware in my joy and gratitude as we stepped carefully over the seeded field and past the red dogwoods. It was the picture I’d unconsciously held in my mind driving to work.
While I try not to be optimistic about bad times returning, I suspect they will, but then so too will they pass and I grow, and the quiet joy of in between will once again be mine.