Day 18/January 25, 2012
By Max the Great Pyrenees
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
During my time at Rubin’s house I have been reading “Sight Hound” by Pam Houston. I’m not sure why I picked the book off the shelf — there are hundreds of books to choose from at Rubin’s house — but I was drawn to this one perhaps because of its pretty blue cover – a big open sky with mountains in the distance and a fence in the foreground. Rubin says it’s Colorado or Wyoming or some place where the sky opens up like a window and the blue eats your eyes and fills your heart with the scent of wildflowers.
Rubin can be a romantic. If I’ve learned anything about him these past few weeks it’s that he is young and innocent and has only known the beauty of humanity; not its darker side.
Rubin is older than I am by almost three years and yet his soul is new while mine, I fear, is much older and therefore more familiar with equal parts pain and beauty, neglect and nurturing. Not that I’m wiser, but the underbelly of humanity has left its mark on me in a way Rubin will never know. And I am thankful that he will never know…
So for reasons I cannot comprehend, I pulled “Sight Hound” from the shelf and started reading. For those who have never had the pleasure (and sorrow because you will cry when you read it) of reading this book, I will only tell you that it is story of pain and love, loss and life, and most importantly it is the story of Dante — an Irish Wolfhound who knows that his time in the human world is not without purpose and that purpose is to teach his human that “love is stronger than fear.”
It is a story of voices and perhaps the most eloquent voice is Dante’s. He is a wise soul and though other voices tell his journey, it is Dante’s voice who speaks a truth as clear as the blue sky on the cover of the novel.
Like Dante, I am on my own journey and while humans may record this journey in days and minutes and time spent in what I like to call the narrow-mindedness of a straight line, I see my journey as a breath — inhaled then exhaled then inhaled once again — a circle of filling up and letting go.
Yes, the beginning (if that’s where you need to start since humans like to start somewhere in fixed time) of my journey is a mystery to everyone but me. I know the dreary kennel of my days and the limited movement of my past; I know the cold hardness of the human heart and the bleak sadness of a life not filled with love and kindness and homemade meatloaf.
And this is maybe the reason why using human language to explain my journey has me a bit stymied. This is why I love Dante who writes — “Humans call this memory, because they can’t open their eyes wide enough to see around time…” Yes, if my eyes are closed, then my memories are more pain than pleasure, more heartache than love, more callous than blessed.
But I can open my eyes wide enough to see around time and realize that this journey has brought me here to the arms of Suzanne who rescued me, who nurtures me back to health, who encourages me to use my limbs in a way I could never imagine, who believes in me when most humans have not.
My journey has also brought me here — for a short time — to Rubin’s house where I am fed homemade meatloaf and given toys that squeak and jerky strips that taste like honey and sunshine; where I am encouraged to smell the grass at the park and make and meet new friends — human and canine — who let me know that humanity is more about love and compassion than it is about insensitivity and heartlessness.
And today my journey took me to Dr. Sanders‘ office where the walking wounded shuffled through the door on gurneys and in slings followed by families who held hope in their pockets like a delicate birds.
Dr. Sanders examined me, held my big paws in his skilled hands and talked to me in a voice that was as reassuring as it was contemplative. I trusted this man just as I’ve trusted Suzanne and Rubin and Dr. Gomez and Sheila and Emily and all those whose hands have nurtured me to this moment of my life.
Dr. Sanders said I am a “unique case.” He said that my spine (cervical spine) has areas of concern and despite the medical terminology I had difficulty understanding it meant that the messages that travel along my nerves aren’t getting through, aren’t being transmitted or received like they are in a healthy dog.
He said that why this is happening is not completely clear and though he could pinpoint where it was most likely happening on my cervical spine, what was making it happen was a mystery. This is why I am spending the night at Dr. Sanders’ clinic so tomorrow he can take pictures of my spine — head to tail — to get a better idea of exactly what’s going on.
It’s called Wobblers (or as he called it, Spondololithesis) and is cervical vertebral instability. No one is completely certain as to the causes of Wobblers and reasons why it occurs can be many, but the result is that dogs like me can’t walk correctly because their is some kind of compression of my spine that stops those messages from getting to where they need to go and then back to my brain.
I could go into more detail — I learned a great deal from Dr. Sanders and from all those who have been helping me like Dr. Gomez and Sheila — but the point is, no one really knows for sure what’s going on in my specific case. Dr. Sanders said it best, I think, when he said, “Even if I get everything in working order through surgery, he still might not walk any better.”
In other words, did I miss my window of opportunity to have my brain “learn” to walk? Is it too late to rebuild, through therapy and rehabilitation, what was never really allowed to build in the first two years of my life?
The questions, at this point, remain unanswered, but the next step of this journey begins tomorrow — as I’m laid out for a MRI with Dr. Sanders standing close by me and a bevy of new friends cheering their prayers for me. Then Dr. Sanders will make his recommendation and the next step in this journey will continue.
“It’s funny how love,” writes Dante, “is both harder, and easier, without language.”
For me, love has been like that window of sky on the cover of the Pam Houston’s novel. My breath stops momentarily every time I open my eyes and see the blueness of compassion encircling me like a cloudless day. I smell the wildflowers and taste the salty lightness of humanity in a way I’ve been denied for most of my life.
Rubin laughs at me sometimes because I like to just lie outside no matter the weather — rain, snow, sunshine, wind — and hold my nose up to catch a scent.
“Why do you do that?” he asked me this morning as I laid on wet grass and felt the wind and rain tickle my ears.
“Why don’t you?” I asked in return.
And for a moment Rubin stood on the deck and flared his nostrils. “What is that?,” he said, “What is that smell?”
“It’s grace,” I said.
“What’s grace?” he asked (I told you he was a young soul).
I took a deep breath and decided it was best to meet Rubin at his level of understanding. “It is beauty wrapped up in organic chicken jerky that your dearest friend shares with you.”
Whatever happens tomorrow, I have smelled grace. I have tasted love on my black lips and let compassion set the rhythm of my tail. It is good to know that my journey has restored my faith in humanity.
And when you look at all those photos of me that Gretchen keeps taking (and that I’m learning to tolerate) notice that my nose is always pointed to the blue sky of grace.