God knew what she was doing when she shoved wolves and humans together and said, “I think something cool is going to happen here. Make something of this, you two.”
And make something we did. Many biologists and anthropologists alike believe that homo sapiens and canis lupus familiaris would be unrecognizable today apart from our interspecies bond. We have been nearly constant companions on this earthly pilgrimage for at least 15,000 years. We learned to read each other (dogs often did better at this than we did) and we discovered that collaboration ensures our thriving (a lesson humans might want to consider a bit more carefully these days).
Sad to say, human beings have been far less kind to what became known as the “dog” than the other way around. I have returned often to this image in one of the dozens of dog books I’ve read over the years: every loving pat, every kind word, every home made for a dog slowly but surely heals a history of human cruelty. (Next on that list in my view is the outright ban on puppy mills.)
Yesterday I had to say goodbye to a beloved canine companion, an Australian Shepherd dog named Tyler. (For anyone facing a similar situation, I highly recommend reading this blog post on how to make the most difficult and loving decision we are called to make for the animals who grace our lives.)
I rescued Tyler from the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society when he was nine years old. He had already been at that shelter for six months because no one wanted to adopt an “older dog.” He was a bit overweight, not terribly well groomed, and a bit listless; but oh, ever so sweet. I can give this old guy two or three years of a happy home, I thought.
Turns out that regular exercise, grooming, and love stretched that estimate to six-and-a-half years. He lost weight, got his energy back, and became an integral part of my life in every respect. He died just shy of his sixteenth birthday.
I learned a lot from Tyler. A short list begins with this: be sure to take time to roll vigorously in the grass at least once a day; never say no to an invitation to play; enjoy a nap in the afternoon sunshine as often as you can; and always greet your friends as if they had just returned from an expedition to the Artic.
It’s not quite true to say that I “rescued” Tyler. It really was a mutual rescue operation. When I adopted him I was basically glued to electronic devices for nearly every waking hour. Adding a dog to the house meant making time for hikes and affection. I had already been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for fifteen years before Tyler came along and, to my chagrin, I knew nothing about parks. When I brought Tyler home I googled “off-leash for dogs” and discovered this amazing thing called the East Bay Regional Park District. A wonderful park was less than two miles from my house! Tyler and I spent countless hours running, playing, hiking, and exploring in those parks. I think it may well have saved my life; it certainly renewed my soul.
The peculiar faith of Christians includes affirming the resurrection of the human body after death. I cannot say in all honesty that my faith in that claim is always constant and unwavering. It’s difficult and complicated. But when I do believe it, I cannot imagine that God would care only about human flesh. After all, God created all of it, including the flesh of the beloved canine who was showered with my tears and kisses as he journeyed on.
Today I believe in the resurrection of the body – all bodies. And I choose to believe today that Tyler has gone ahead of me on a journey all of us will take. I dare to believe he might be waiting for me – even as he frolics and plays and takes a good roll in heavenly grass. I know – it’s peculiar. But today, I believe it.
So here I offer some words in honor of Tyler. I am of course heartbroken but hopeful – he’s gone on ahead and he’ll have lots to show me when I get there.
Go On Ahead – I’ll Catch Up
I imagine that you’ll limp a bit and stumble at first.
You have some healing to do with those hips and joints.
But it won’t take long. Trust me.
I know you love to run and that’s what you should do.
It will soon feel like home, oddly but perfectly.
So go on ahead. I’ll catch up soon.
Don’t look back but for a moment, and listen!
Over the strange haze that enfolds you just now
you’ll hear a familiar whistle in a voice
you’ve never heard before but have always known.
The laughter of creek-water over stones,
the scampering of field mice on their mounds,
the cry of a hawk in a pale blue sky and
the whisper of a soft breeze in the pines.
The Voice calls to you, just for you –
run and play.
And I? I shall wait, and work, and laugh, and cry
until you show me that new brook,
the unknown path through a wild forest,
running in your circles with glee and pausing
to bump my knee with your wet nose to goad me,
urging me on to run with you down the road –
the very road God has made just for us.
That will be The Day.
So go on ahead now.
Don’t worry and don’t look back.
I’ll catch up.