Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Epitaph to a People, Part II

That Lord Byron Guy Beat Me To This
A friend of mine told me one time that you have to give people a reason to care about what you write.  You have to show them why it matters.

Another less eminent philosopher simply asked, "Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside?" The question is important. Why should you care about my dog?

I'll let Lord Byron answer, who wrote a beautiful but cynical (to Mankind, at least) epitaph to his late dog, Boatswain, some 200 years ago:
Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
My Llewellin Setter was all that is good in the world. She had no sin, and no vices, as Byron would say. She loved us and we loved her. We are less without her. Less gentle, less thoughtful, less playful. There is less love in this house for want of her. I hurt because she's gone. Not just because I needed a crutch (I did) or needed a silent friend (I did). I hurt because my life was shared with a creature that didn't demand anything from us. She loved for absolutely nothing in return, and boys and girls, that's noble.

Uh, She's Not a Dog.  She's a People.
We used to joke that Belle wasn't a dog. She was a people. And that's the way it always was. She was never at home with her own kind, and only wanted to be with people. She was a people. Over the years, I would carelessly quip that I liked that dog more than most humans I met. I wasn't kidding in the least.

The dog was wrapped up in every moment of our lives. She (if only her tail) is in most pictures. Most videos. In most memories. Under the table, she would lie on my feet, keeping them warm all winter, as I studied for a big licensing exam. I vividly remember taking the red shirt I wore on the Sunday night that Jack came to us and introducing his smell. She was playful with it, almost silly.  She seemed as glad as we were at his coming.

One of my most treasured birthday presents is this gorgeous oil painting of Belle done by my Aunt Dana. We spent untold thousands on the dog, buying everything from food to sheep dip to paying for the two (that's TWO) surgeries to remove our life's savings lingerie (!) from her gut (funny stories, remind me to tell y'all those one day). Her coarse white hair is in every crevice of our house and on every article of clothing. I saw a single stray hair upstairs today.

Belle would stand in the back of my little car, head on my right shoulder as I drove. She would lick the sweat off of my ear after every miserable Houston death march run or when I would attempt suicide by heatstroke box above our garage. She would end up pulling out some of my hair in her licky enthusiasm. She would sit obediently, and look a bit abashed as she tooted. Twice. She would rub her face on our good rug after a particularly greasy meal. I would rub her belly and scratch her until she made noises like a tauntaun from The Empire Strikes Back. It made me chuckle and I'd look over just in time to see Majesty roll her eyes as she was reading in bed.  The dog did everything at warp speed, and more than once skidded across our frozen deck and crashed ignominiously into the limestone wall of our house in Dallas.

I've got a thousand of these.
I Can Hear You Thinking
A righteous man knows the soul of his animal. -Proverbs 12:10
Look, I know some of you aren't dog people. I know some of you are (in your own way), but will still shake your head when you read this, saying, "That guy's insane. It's just a dog. Get over it."

I fully realize that in the theological sense, any animal is in many ways less than one of us. (No animal needed or needs redemption from sin, for example.)* You yourselves have lost fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, and the LORD help us all and forbid, children. I'm not pretending to understand the gravity and magnitude of that kind of loss. I wouldn't even dare to compare the two things.

But I know this: That animal had something. An immortal soul on par with ours? Most likely not. I read somewhere that theologians are generally willing to say that animals have the breath of life in them, and nothing more. As if that's something unimportant, that makes once inanimate objects wobble around and hum with a hollow life, like so many windup toys, doomed to one day wind down.

Friends and neighbors, I'm here to tell you there was something in that dog, behind those big brown iridescent eyes that was almost... human. I can't explain it, and don't really care to try. But if almighty GOD gave that animal the breath of life, then what life that was in her was from Him. And her spirit was so very, very good. It bettered us. It was a blessing to my family that I'm ever grateful for.

If you still think I'm nuts, fine.  No real surprise, there.  But I'd wager you never met my Llewellin.

I hope Jack will remember her. Majesty assures me that she remembers a favorite dog of hers when she was even younger than The Captain. I hope he does.  Yet I'm so thankful that he's young enough not to understand death.  And that I did not have to explain.

I'd like to think, as I told Belle in so many words, that what is GOD's will return to Him, even if it's only His breath.  At least that seems logical to me.  I think that in some sense, she did indeed run in ethereal meadows that night. But tonight, here in this house, it's far too quiet.

There's no other way to quite say it, the world is a little less... speckled.

*Now that I think about it, some of the late First Mate's hi jinks seem pretty darn near close to sins...


Courtney Squillante said...

Thank you for telling everyone about what a wonderful family member she was. I am SOOOOO sorry for your loss- I can't even imagine! It's tough because we know that inevitably one day we will lose our four legged friends, but an unexpected accident makes it so much harder! And I believe, too, that they are SO MUCH MORE than "just a dog"- they are part of the family! Hugs to you all!

Anonymous said...

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it (Belle's life) happened."--Dr. Seusse.

Bethany said...

I think I know what you mean. (: Our own four-legged family member (Austin is his name) holds an irreplaceable place in our lives and hearts. Rick and I are touched by your loss!

Cindy Deister said...

Tears in the morning...I will think of you all and pet my dogs in Belle's honor today. So sorry I never met her. Your words finally explained how I connect with my dogs, because I haven't been able to find those words. Thank you.