It’s a dream, but the images are sharp as daylight. I’m on one of our well-traveled byways, nearing a crosswalk on Summerfield Road. Shenzi is about six feet out on her leash, and she inexplicably ambles out into the road a few feet before I am there, disregarding all her training. I pull back on the leash and she is a little slow to respond. Then I see cars are dangerously closer and she is still out a few feet on the roadway.
Now I pull more emphatically on the leash, but Shenzi, again inexplicably, digs in. I easily overpower her, but as I pull her to safety toward me I see the leash and her collar are kind of tangled at the top of her head. No squeals or cries, but as I reel her in I confront a horrid sight.
She is looking directly into my eyes but her left eye is grotesquely swollen and bulging and beginning to leak fluid. Then the leak becomes as a dam breaking and she is gushing, hemorrhaging fluid as her eyeball appears to be coming out of its socket.
I am stunned, the “Oh my God!”s swirling and cascading through me, where they share space with, “I HAVE TO GET TO THE VET RIGHT NOW, what am I GOING TO DO, I’m a mile from home what am I going to do OHMYGOD HER EYE HER EYE!
Then I hear a voice, Shenzi’s voice, crystal clear, if a bit pained and urgent. It is not audible, in my ears, as words formed from her voice, but it is conveyed and understood in my mind, my heart, directly from hers, and it is resounding.
And it says, as I watch her eye go through its rapid deterioration, her other eye gazing still directly into mine: “I love you. I love you so much. I love you…”
Not “What have you done to me? How could you? Why did you pull so hard? Oh my God!”
But “I love you. I love you so much. I love you…”
When I was training to be a gestalt therapist before my life headed off in a different direction many decades ago, the basic approach to dreams was to have the client inhabit every person and sometimes even various objects in the dream, under the theory that every part of our dreams is a projection of ourselves and our unconscious wants, conflicts and needs. I’m none too sure today how true that is, though the process tended more often than not to yield rich fruits for contemplation and discussion.
In therapy, that can be enough, however literally “true” the underlying rubric is.
So there may be some material in this dream worth exploring from an intra-psychic standpoint. But even if I do, I doubt it will tell me anything near as powerful and affirming of certain large truths as what this dream conveyed directly to me.
Dogs. I’ve had three of them in my adult life. Their lifespans laid end to end now total about 45 years, Shenzi, both of her warm large brown eyes happily intact, occupying the last 10 of those.
I doubt I will ever be without a dog, so long as I maintain enough of my faculties in my dotage to have anything to say about it.
You dog people know whereof I speak. The loyalty and devotion, the unfettered joy, the romping, the ridiculous tails, the comic noses and their mysteries of olfaction. The willingness to be foolish and to forgive, always to forgive.
Dogs are humbling, inasmuch as in relationship with their companion owners, they are so unrelentingly willing to be humble themselves, their needs simple, their motivations laid bare, their hearts pure as a babe’s.
So I was humbled this morning to be reminded so clearly and powerfully about the love and forgiveness this creature holds for me in her heart.
And rather than see this dream as some manifestation of conflicts around power and will in relationship, I take it instead as a postcard from the other side, a fierce love note depicting—and thereby encouraging—a fierce love that will endure any hardship and mishap, never failing to keep at least one eye, if not both, on the prize of affirming to all those dear to us in this life, and to life itself, ““I love you. I love you so much. I love you…”
EPITAPH TO A DOG
Written and inscribed on the monument of a Newfoundland dog by Lord Byron (1808)
Near this spot
Are deposited the Remains of one
Who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
And all the virtues of Man, without his Vices.
This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
If inscribed over human ashes,
Is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG
To err is human—to forgive, canine.
Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.
If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.
Dogs are how people would be if the important stuff is all that mattered to us.
Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.
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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
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Love it, Andrew! You KNOW I am “one of those dog people.” I get a ridiculous amount of joy watching Henry run himself around the yard. Usually at Marilyn’s goading and encouragement, And then….his huge smiling face, panting, just makes me grin too. HH
Harriet, you remind me of one of Shenzi’s fave gambits: whenever she gets stoked because someone came home or whatever (doesn’t take much provocation), she commences to a mad sprint around the front yard or even the living room, cutting on a dime like a running back to skirt bushes, hedges, furniture, small retaining walls that she leaps over with a single bound… I try to snag her and I sometimes half-succeed, just managing to give her a few rolls across the lawn before she rights herself, barely breaking stride as she dashes off again. She’s slowed a bit now and doesn’t exhibit this with quite the regularity of years gone by, but it’s still in her arsenal!
What goofs dogs are, yes? I’m encouraged that often enough, we humans manage to be goofs right alongside them.
I am remembering one sad day when that dream actually became reality, when the most beloved dog in the world (as they all are: the most beloved) was hit by a car, and died. The unbelievable happened: his life was gone, and our lives forever changed.
I had grown up on a farm; I knew a lot about the life and death of animals. I cared about them, yes, but it was a practical, matter-of-fact relationship. We had farm dogs too, but allowing one of them in the house would have been like inviting a cow to sit in the living room. So, having no template for this, I did not have dogs as pets in my adult homes, either.
But then my daughter campaigned, long long long and hard hard hard (imagine waking to 200 sticky notes all over the house, each proclaiming “I want a dog!”). Eventually I was worn down, and then I immediately fell in love. And for one brief and amazing year our family conducted a love affair with an amazing being in our midst; I still contend, seriously, that he was not a dog, but a person in a dog outfit.
But ultimately he was a dog, an escape artist terrier whose wandering ways were the end of him, and the undoing of us who loved him.
I can touch the raw grief of that long ago day as if it was this morning, and I know the measure of my love for him by the same yardstick of that pain, and both are still so real and so alive.
So, one has to wonder, why lay oneself so open to love if it only makes one so vulnerable to grief?
Oh, let’s see: compassion, joy, laughter, companionship, adoration, nurturing, patience, unguarded silliness, dedication. Stuff like that.
Thank you for that lovely little essay, Angela, so reflective of what is probably not yet a universal experience of losing a beloved pet, but is certainly a serious dynamic through much of the industrialized world
It takes me back to a year living on a small farm after college, with various barnyard animals we raised for meat, eggs and milk. The two big German shepherd dogs lived outside, never allowed in the house, was just the way it was, but the far more tortuous decision was whether to name the animals we were going to later butcher. Names being as fundamental to identity and relationship as they are, I felt a little hesitant to name and establish relationships with creatures I would later sit down to enjoy as dinner, but I didn’t own the place, so we wound up with Beatrice the cow and Abby the pig, among others. And I have to say, they tasted great.
But that line between what is a utilitarian, ultimately carnivorous relationship and what becomes a beloved family pet who lives and thrives in and enlarges your heart can be thin and mysterious indeed!