Last Friday morning I was walking the dogs in the woods and I collided with our eight-month-old, 50-pound puppy and fractured my shoulder. Actually, she collided with me, but the outcome was the same. So I have been forced to learn how to write using a dictation program. As far as I can tell the results sound like something a Borg might leave on a memo pad, though I do like some of the mistakes. For instance, when I say dictation my new program often types it as Dick Tatian.
Until the advent of the puppy, my husband and I had been living alone in the country with our eight-year-old mutt. Our grown children and friends and neighbors were in and out, but for the most part it was just the three of us, quietly going about our business. For a long time I wanted to add more animals–-a second dog, some goats, a retired horse or two. It made most sense to start with the dog.
Six months ago I wrote an entry on this site about finding this very puppy. At the end of a long hard winter, I saw a picture of her tacked up on a wall at Agway, and at that moment she seemed like an answer to my prayers—I had been feeling especially frozen and down-hearted, and I decided she was my the antidote for my blues. When I called the owner, she assured me that the puppy was sweet tempered, mellow, and highly trainable, so one month later she became the fourth member of our pack.
The dog was beautiful and funny and ran like a gazelle, but mellow and highly trainable she was not. Her idea of a really good time was to work up a head of steam and broadside the closest animal—canine or human. She put our old dog out of commission twice. She knocked both my legs out from under me and landed me flat on my face in the woods, miraculously undamaged, a few days before the fractured shoulder incident.
But the most unsettling thing about her is that we saw nothing in her eyes—no confusion, pleasure, fear, anticipation—nothing. The three of us did our very best to love her, but she appeared to be uninterested in emotional connection. Or, perhaps after all I have read and thought and learned about dogs over the past few weeks, I should say that her form of emotional connection was indecipherable—and possibly dangerous—to us.
Still, I’m not sure we would have been able to give her up if I hadn’t fractured my shoulder. My arm has to remain completely immobile for six weeks, and that simply wasn’t possible with the puppy in the house. So after some serious tears and misgivings, we found her a home with an experienced trainer where she can run around all day with animals closer to her age and resilience.
I like to believe that there is something to be learned from most things that happen, though I hasten to add that some experiences are so horrible that no amount of wisdom makes them worth the pain, at least in a human lifetime. Finding a puppy a new home and keeping my arm in a sling for six weeks does not fall into the latter category, so I have been wondering.
This morning I was reading A Barn at the End of the World, by Mary Rose O’Reilly, a book I read regularly and write about frequently. On a visit to Great Britain to sing Sacred Harp music with some Brits, the author and her partner find themselves inside a Celtic church with numerous carvings on the lintels and walls–-men falling from the sky, men embracing, and a squatting woman with an untamed smile on her face. The author recognizes this last figure as a common image used by cultures all over the world to encourage and reassure young women who are about to marry and give birth and raise a family.
When reflecting on the seeming oddity of these so-called pagan figures appearing in a chapel, O’Reilly writes, “This religious expression seems organic and logical to me. These people knew many faces of God and did not trouble their minds with theologizing and the agonies of belief.” Since she herself has been a Catholic nun, a practicing Quaker, a singer of Sacred Harp music, and a Buddhist meditator, she is no stranger to the many faces of God. In fact, it is the presence of the many faces that makes most sense to her.
After their visit to the Celtic chapel, the author and her partner take a hike into a seemingly deserted and ancient forest, where they are moved to sing one of their Sacred Harp hymns: “Show my forgetful feet the way that leads to joy on high, where knowledge grows without decay and love shall never die.” At the end of their song, they find themselves surrounded by a small circle of Welsh people who break into applause. It seems that the Welsh are still contented to worship in any number of ways and places.
“Knowing God is rather like experiencing a deer by her scent, when she has passed before you a moment earlier on the trail,” writes O’Reilly. “I know a woman in Vancouver who can sense bear this way. The experience of God is that subtle and that destabilizing: deer or bear? One crosses into the woods warily and tries to make a lot of noise.”
O’Reilly’s not-knowing lines up nicely with my not-knowing, just as her few certainties line up with my few certainties. We both believe in Something, and we are far more interested in discovering all the many forms It might take than we are in insisting on a single form It must take. Still, I sometimes wish I could more easily decipher God’s will for me. If the puppy was an answer to my prayer, what in the world could I have been praying for?
“One crosses into the woods warily and tries to make a lot of noise.” Of course the point of all that noise is to keep away the deer and the bear and their scents, which is to say to keep away the knowledge. Maybe last spring I was praying for noise–-something to take me out of myself and away from the knowledge gleaned by living through the late-winter blues–-and what I got was a short burst of distraction followed by a long period of rest. Having a fractured shoulder has already quieted me down quite a bit, and that is never a bad thing.
Late yesterday afternoon I went back into the woods for the first time since the accident, barefoot, slowly walking the trail I have made over the years, watching our old mutt patiently reacquaint himself with the scents along the way. In the stillness, in the slanted shafts of sunlight, I felt grateful and, oddly, chastened. Looking back, it all seemed a long way round to silence, but I am a slow learner, and I take my lessons hard.