Look in their eyes to see heaven

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 20, 2013 1:37 AM

Regular readers know that I am not a religious woman, certainly not in the conventional sense. I am mostly distrustful of organized religion, certainly as it applies to me. I’ve been that way since I was 15, or at least that’s when I became acutely aware. Fifteen seems to be the age when many become acutely aware. I don’t believe in the traditional idea of heaven either. I believe when we die, we die. That our souls are released to travel the universe or to sit next to the ones we leave behind. But I don’t think anyone ascends to one convenient 5-star cloud reserved only for those most holy.

I do however believe in a different kind of heaven, the kind that can be seen here on earth when looking into the eyes of a dog, and especially an older dog.

I’ve written before about my admiration of older dogs. Having had a vintage puppy in our beloved Maguire, I came to almost prefer dogs with a few miles on them, whose legs maybe didn’t have as much pure muscle mass, whose gait had slowed; whose fur was more coarse and gray; whose eyes contained the wisdom of their years and the knowledge of a life lived well. When I would look into Maguire’s eyes and see that wisdom, accompanied by acceptance, I knew I was also seeing the only kind of heaven I believed in.

This heaven is one based solely on reality, on an animal’s truth and consent. Dogs never try to be anything they’re not. They don’t struggle with a will to continue. They are blessed by the comfort of recognition of the inevitable. We are the ones who hope and pray and wish that they’ll never leave us, who often keep them alive longer than they want to be in order to soothe our own souls when theirs are already gone. We did this with Maguire. He essentially left us on the Friday night of his horrific seizures but even though the light had gone out of his magnificent brown eyes, we couldn’t and didn’t make the decision to let him go until Tuesday morning.

Maguire taught me to love dogs. When he got to be an old dog, he taught me to love his majesty and truth.

Before he died, I began following a group on Facebook, based in Lake Stevens, Washington, called Old Dog Haven. They provide homes for the aging, white muzzled dogs that people have cast aside. Some just need a place to comfortably live out their remaining time, where they can bask in the warm sunshine of the day and sleep inside at night surrounded by love. Some need hospice care. Old Dog Haven tries to get people to adopt older dogs, too. For anyone who has had an older dog, the idea of having another can actually be pleasant. Again I’ll use the word comforting.

This weekend they’re having a Walk for Old Dogs, raising money for their care. Donations can be made at odhfundraising.org. I just gave a donation, for Maguire, for our someday old dog Cooper, and for a dog named Schoep.

Last year, I wrote about a man named John who would take his then 19-year-old German shepherd mix, Schoep, into Lake Michigan, a lullaby that helped relieve the dog’s arthritis. He would fall asleep in John’s arms. Schoep recently celebrated his 20th birthday, and he passed away on Wednesday of this week. John announced it briefly on Facebook last night. “I breathe but I can’t catch my breath” was all he wrote, along with “Schoep passed yesterday.” As I type those words my eyes are swimming in tears. I never met John or Schoep but I know his pain. I know that he knows that all the times he looked into the beautiful eyes of his beautiful boy, he was seeing heaven on earth.

I hope that it’s enough though I know that it is not. I hope that one day he’ll be able to see the wonder and approval and ascension of his beloved dog as we came to see it with Maguire. It doesn’t lessen the loss but it does help to lessen the pain, as does time. As does the ability to see into the eyes of another needy dog. It’s life; it’s what we can do. It’s how we live it out loud.

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live out loud

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