“I think I could turn and live with animals…not one is demented with the mania of owning things…” ~ Walt Whitman
Last week my ex-husband called me with the news that our dog, Buster, had died. When the phone rang that evening I felt my shoulders slump and a sigh escaped my heart. I’d been expecting the call. He had emailed me the day before saying that our sweet boy was holding onto the remains of his life by a painful thread.
I thought back to when Buster first came to live with us and the word “belonging” seemed to fit his place in our life. A ragged ache slipped from Buster’s wet coat the night he stepped through our front door and soon after that we wrapped him in a new blanket of belonging, him to us and perhaps, even more so, us to him.
Belonging has in its make up the roots of a deeper truth: be longing. It holds an urgent coaxing in its languid reach of possessions and a sense of place. We hunger for belongings, for things that in some magical way we believe will define us, heal us and protect us. We long to belong to our partner, our family, our friends, our place in the world, and most desperately to ourselves. In those answered longings are wisps of ephemeral manifestations we mistakenly believe will last, will sustain us, will hold us in a perpetual womb of safety when all the while their demise is slipping away like so much sand across a desert of dreams.
I know there are days I long for spiritual community, trusting the map of my way in the world will bring me to a place of contented belonging. There’s also the wisdom in seeing I already belong right where I am, in my practice, in my compassion for myself and others, in the peace that nestles next to me as I sleep, knowing too that Buster’s life was lived by his own map of belonging.
I wasn’t there for his last yearnings, when each pained inhale tilled the air for its final seeds of nourishment and the dark clouds of death’s watch moved ever closer to a final horizon. Did he long to run again along the stream near his home? To sing to the heavens or to lick his human’s face with an impermeable gratitude for his lot in this life? Or did he think at all about what he will miss, what hole would be left when he was no longer here?
Buster did not belong to us. He was a loyal, loving, boisterous being that gave far more than he ever asked of us human servants. May the journey to his next life be filled with peace and ease. In the meantime I’ll imagine his arpeggio howl still caressing the night winds and his one blue eye and one brown eye winking on the sun licked waters of the ocean’s gleaming fur.
by Paul Zimmer
Amongst dogs are listeners and singers.
My big dog sang with me so purely,
puckering her ruffled lips into an O,
beginning with small, swallowing sounds
like Coltrane musing, then rising to power
and resonance, gulping air to continue—
her passion and sense of flawless form—
singing with me, but mostly for the art of dogs.
We joined in many fine songs—”Stardust,”
“Naima,” “The Trout,” “Jeg elsker Dig,” “Perdido.”
She was a great master and died young,
leaving me with unrelieved grief,
her talents known only to a few.
Now I have a small dog who does not sing
but listens with discernment, requiring
skill and spirit in my falsetto voice.
When I sing her name and words of love,
Andante, con brio, vivace, adagio,
at times she is so moved she turns
to place her paw across her snout,
closing her eyes, sighing like a girl
I held and danced with years ago.
But I am a pretender to dog music.
Indeed, true strains rise only from
the rich, red chambers of a canine heart;
these melodies best when the moon is up,
listeners and singers together and apart,
beyond friendship and anger,
far from any human imposter—
songs of bones, turds, conquests,
hunts and scents, ballads of
long nights lifting to starlight.
“Dog Music” by Paul Zimmer, from Crossing to Sunlight Revisited. © The University of Georgia Press. 2007
© Tess Wixted; all rights reserved