My ugly encounter with dog-impermanence eventually gave way to beauty.
But to reap the blessings of impermanence we must first acknowledge the pain of it. We acknowledge our resistance to the way things are. We witness our attachment to the way we want things to be. Our willingness to befriend our reactivity eventually leads to release, in timeless time.
In the airport shuttle, that first trip to India, I didn’t think I could get on the plane and leave my dog. I plotted a quick turnaround.
Becky called as we arrived at the airport. She had taken Stella to the vet. “He isn’t sure what’s going on,” she said. “It may be lung metastasis from a hidden tumor. He’ll X-ray her in two weeks when you get back.”
Two weeks. Magic words. That meant the vet thought she’d survive two weeks. The vet thought I should get on the plane.
I didn’t want to. But the passengers pressing behind me nudged me across the threshold. Now there was no escape. Fifteen hours to stop one, Hong Kong. I found my seat and the door sealed shut like the lid of a coffin.
There was nothing to do but wait and worry.
Try not to think about it, I thought. Distract yourself with in-flight movies. This Bruce Willis epic with explosions looks good…
The explosion movies worked for a while. But eight hours and three movies later, halfway across the Pacific I was done. I couldn’t avoid myself anymore. I descended into an aching love story.
I did not intend to fall in love with Stella. I didn’t even want a dog, much less a high energy Vizsla. But Hugh and I adopted her because she felt meant to be. The day Stella arrived home she grinned, trotted through the living room, peed on the couch, and chased our rabbit. This began a saga of dog mischief– teething on custom slipcovers, endless pointing at birds and squirrels, and standing on me in the wee hours of the morning to persuade me to feed her. It should have been annoying, but I found myself perpetually endeared in the vortex of her joy and intelligence.
I spoke to her in full sentences. She understood “Go in the backyard and help Daddy feed the cockatiels.” She was my best friend, my canine alter-ego. I promised her from the beginning that I would stand beside her always, I would usher her through her living and her dying. So how could I betray her like this now, flying to the other side of the world when she needed me most? The shame of it overwhelmed me.
I prayed. Please, please, please keep her safe until I get back. Don’t let her die alone. I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll pray more, I’ll be a better person, I’ll stop saying the F-word. Just let her live.
I watched myself bargain with God, the opposite of what we say in church: “Prayer isn’t about changing God’s mind. We pray to change our hearts.”
I sat in the darkness and whispered, “We pray to change our hearts.” I pondered these words.
Ever-so-slightly, I felt Love change my heart. I began to wonder. What if it’s selfish to cling to Stella? What if she’s suffering? What if she’s on her own path, separate from my need? What if real love is letting go?
Reflections: How do you befriend “unholy attachment”? What happens when you make this shift in consciousness? How do you feel about real love as letting go?