Dogs and Love and Death

February 22, 2016

Dear friends have just learned that their beloved young German Shepherd has a probably fatal disease. Their friends share their grief for this beautiful, exceptional animal, though we cannot know the depths of their sorrow; they raised her from being a small puppy, hiked deep into the Sierras with her, romped with her in the snow, watched her in joy at the beach, and exchanged the love only dog lovers know with her every day and night.

This morning I woke up from a dream in which an unknown woman told me “your dog has been hit.” I looked over her shoulder toward a nearby yard and saw my precious small white dog standing but clearly hurt. “Oh no!” I cried out as I woke up. Then I saw my precious one sleeping peacefully on our bed as he does every night; still, the dream said “This won’t last forever.”

In her book of poems about her beloved dogs (“Dog Songs”), Mary Oliver says: “Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also….We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.”

I think dogs are our teachers about love and about death. How to love? Unconditionally, without our ego’s list of requirements. We humans are slow learners, thanks to our egos: “I’ll really love you once you loose/gain those extra pounds, start looking like the girl/guy of my dreams, start making more money, provide me with more status, stop interrupting me, become more/less interested in sex, get your teeth fixed, start agreeing with me on politics/religion/budgeting/parenting, stop starting those arguments which are all your fault,” etc. etc. etc.

Our dog Rudy scans rooms to see who might need a little extra love, and walks over, wags his tail and offers it. He starts every day with play and kisses, and ends every night with cuddles and kisses; now there’s a love model worth following! And in between he never has a bad hair day, never fails to welcome us home as if our return is the greatest thing since the IPhone, is always ready to play, always ready to love, forgives our mistakes instantly, and never holds a grudge.

Even in the best cases, our dogs live relatively short lives; because of that, they offer lessons about death too. They always leave us before we’re ready. Death is coming, and whether we’re 8 or 80, we get closer to it every day. I trust/know there’s incredible beauty on the other side of death, but so far I haven’t been given any information about whether our canine friends will be there.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the work and life of Philip Toshio Sudo, who wrote wonderful books including Zen Guitar, Zen Sex, and Zen computer. He met and married his true love and lived six “blissful” years in Hawaii with her; they had 3 children. Those kids were 1, 4 and 6 when he died at age 41, a year after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. He was scheduled to have a devastating surgery in New York on 9/11. He died in 2002. His widow says that one of the books he carried with him spoke of how to be resolute about death. In the way of Zen, Phil apparently accepted his fate, grieving mainly for the pain of the wife and children he had to leave….

I don’t know what Phil felt about Sufi poets like Rumi, but this poem except means a lot to me: Rumi says:
“….The human seed goes down into the ground like a bucket
and comes up with some unimagined beauty.
Your mouth closes here, and immediately
opens with a shout of joy
there.”

I posted the above on Facebook today, but I wanted to share it with readers of this blog too. I am interested in contacting Phil’s widow, Tracy Buell Sudo. Can you help?