The Bay News, Morro Bay, CA
for December 6. 06
Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.
John Galsworthy, Memories
Situa, the sweet ancient Basenji matriarch of the clan died in September. She was nearly 18, doddery and befuddled, but determinedly on her game. The morning of her passing, she gulped her mush with gusto and when I checked on her a few hours later, she was gone. I would like to think that the Great Gravy Bone Train came for her that morning and, having had her breakfast, she climbed on board, off on a new adventure.
But in what seemed to be an awful episode of The Twilight Zone, within two months of her passing, the last of her children joined her.
Of all my Basenjis, that litter was a perfect example of what careful breeding and good genes can accomplish. Born of gentle Situa and a remarkable father named Champion Steven Spielbark (one of his owner/breeders worked for the film industry so their dogs’ names were always worth waiting for: Howl Pacino, Mindiana Jones, Raider of the Lost Bark), their bloodlines resulted in beautiful and beautifully tempered dogs.
And healthy dogs who enjoyed 15 years of excellent health until weeks before their 16th birthdays, when one by one, they went down. First was beautiful Rafiki, the proud Dauphin of Dogs, sweet, patient “Unca Meekie” to his grand-and-great-grand nephews and nieces. Then, within days came the call that his brother, Jameel, was gone. Ten days later, I held their sister in my arms as she slipped away, gentle M’tawi, with her large, soft dark eyes and the offset blaze down her wrinkled forehead that gave her a quizzical, split-faced look, M’tawi, the devoted mother and grandmother, who even took over many of the puppy duties when her own wicked daughter got fed up with it all. M’tawi was the sweetest of a sweet bunch.
All gone now, trailing the lost years and so many memories behind them. My Dog Garden will bloom with yet another memorial rock rose planted under the trees. They are hard, these sudden losses. Did Situa, lonely for her brood, call her children to her? And are they now all happily running through the African veldt under a blazing sun? Even that self-comforting pleasant fiction cannot stop the sad puzzle of how a house still bustling and bumbling with dogs can feel so empty with their gentle presence gone.
But Galsworthy is right. These quiet friends do carry away so much of our lives and memories. And remind us of how quickly our own time is passing, that the eternal footman is waiting for us, too, holding our coat. That even in the midst of a healthy life can come the fatal blow. That nothing is sure, that there is no future planned that cannot be undone in an instant. Mice, men, and dogs, the past, the future -- all are wheat straw in the wind.
The Mighty Finn MacCool, the tall, lanky rescued greyhound, whistles through his long nose as he nuzzles my hand, his tail slowly revolving like a crank handle. He has suffered the bane of racing greyhounds, an accidental tooth-scrape from his running buddy that unzipped his paper-thin skin and has left him painfully sutured and stapled and wearing a decidedly unfashionable baggy t-shirt over his awful wound. Finn has no use for sorrowful wool-gathering. He is looking for attention . . . now. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Now.
He’s right. It’s a reality he understands perfectly, and the message he sends bears repeating: Now is all we have. So, waste no time dwelling on what has gone. Instead, kiss your loved ones on the nose every chance you get. If they’re four-footed, they will wag their tails or purr. If they’re two-footed, they will look at you funny. When they do, give them a biscuit.
Because, Time Past is irredeemable, and Time Present spent in grief is time that cannot be spent in joy. That is always the Lesson of the Dogs. Still . . . .
. . . Still . . . There, in that small word is the bitter blessing of being fully human: We cannot receive memory’s balm without its cut to the heart.
That too is the Lesson of the gentle ghosts who now sleep under the flowering plum trees.