Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Last night Ann and I dog sat for our neighbor’s beautiful and highly anxious dog, Violet. Most people would just leave their dog in the house or in the yard when they go to a Mariner’s game, and that’s what Andrew did with their other, more mellow dog, Sadie. But Violet gets so anxious when she’s home alone that she has often broken out of the house through a front window (this smart dog learned to open it), so Andrew left us with her for the earlier part of the night, wanting to reduce her minutes of anxiety.
We had a lovely time together. It was a beautiful Seattle evening, so Ann and I ate our dinner on the deck, and Violet lay beside us at first. Then, when she got too hot in the sun and we had stopped rubbing her belly in order to eat our dinner, she moved her nap into the shade.
As the night grew cool, we realized that we couldn’t stay on the deck all night, so we broke our cardinal rule of no dogs in the house and invited her in. She lapped water loudly from a person dish, licked up all the crumbs she found around the butcher-block table and in the dining room, and lay near me on the floor as Ann began reading us a story.
She was so calm with us that it was hard to believe that when she was alone, she was so anxious.
I finally started getting ready for bed, and Violet took Ann for a walk. Ann said the walk was lovely, and afterwards she took Violet home to wait for Andrew. She wrote Andrew a quick email telling him what a fine time they had and that Violet was tied on the front porch. As we chatted before drifting to sleep, Ann said, “I can understand why people have dogs.”
In this morning’s email was a response from Andrew saying that Violet had broken away from the porch before he got home last night and that when he found her she had been hit by a car and had died.
I am so sad.
When I read Andrew’s email, I thought of a poem Sister Jen wrote when she was in the seventh grade:
The poem made me cry when I saw it on the yellow bathroom counter in 1979, and it makes me ache again today.
Ann and I have both had near-death experiences in our eighteen years together, and each time we survive Ann says, “It was not my (or your) time.”
On a Serengeti safari, when Ann was in the tent by herself, a curious lioness nosed the zipper trying to get to Ann. Our guides raced up in jeeps to save her. “It was not my time,” she said then.
After surviving two brain tumors (and thus using two of my nine lives), I was t-boned by a SUV travelling way too fast, and though I had to be cut from my totaled car, I was remarkably only a little bruised (a third life gone.) “It was not your time,” Ann told me.
This sentiment was more comforting when it was not my time, but I guess last night was Violet’s time.
Do I believe some micro-managing god or blind goddess of fate planned her death? No, I don’t. It’s simply a fact. It was her time. All of us will die. Each of us will have our time.
The reflection brings to mind “for whom the bell tolls,” a phrase originally used by John Donne in “Meditation 17”, and later by Hemingway in a novel about the Spanish Civil War. Google tells me that Metallica has a song by that title, too. As Donne wrote:
Each man's death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.
And I riff:
Each death diminishes me, for I am involved in life. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.
And further I riff:
Each life enhances mine, for I am of the spirit of life. Therefore, know that all who live and all who came before are with me. I am not alone.
As I write, I think that I am more of the spirit of Walt Whitman than of Donne and Hemingway and Metallica. Listen to the fullness of life at the opening of Song of Myself:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.
I do not believe that I am in denial, that I will not see that one day I and those I love most will die. I know this. I believe it. And yet, it is life that most embraces me. I more Walt Whitman than John Donne, and in more modern musicians I am more Blues Traveler than Metallica:
Life I embrace you.
I shall honor and disgrace you.
Please forgive if I replace you.
You see I'm going through some pain,
But now I see clearly,
And the dawn is coming nearly,
And though I'm human and it's early,
I swear I'll never forget again.
And this is why I write. Because I have seen my own death and marvel more at my own life, at the power of life around me. The dawn is coming nearly. I’m human, and it’s early. I suspect I’ll forget again.
Life is what it’s all about.
Rest well, dear Violet. Thanks for being part of my life.