The Fragile Circle
[McKinley was not permitted on the bed to cuddle the night before he died]
Mine is not an elevated existence lived in a state of constant, deep appreciation and awareness. Like anyone else, I find myself annoyed by dogs underfoot, by puddles on the floor, by papers cleared from tables by wagging tails. I sometimes forget to be thankful for the warm animal bodies that curl next to me in bed, and instead complain about a lack of blankets to call my own. I pull dog hair from our food and long ago surrendered to the impossibility of keeping home and self spotlessly clean against an endless onslaught of muddy paws and sloppy wet kisses. I daydream occasionally of an animal-free life where my time, energy and resources are squandered on me and me alone. But the lesson of McKinley has spilled over, far beyond the immediacy of his life and death. Now, when my dogs offer a kiss or invite me to play, I am less quick to push them away if I am feeling pressured or busy. I know that when they are gone, I would happily trade every moment spent complaining for a chance to give them another hug or to stroke their heads once more, I try to accept their gifts of the moment, reminding myself that I am a poor person indeed if I can't spend time accepting the unconditional love offered so often every day by my dogs. On my left shoulder, death sits quietly, not a horrific figure but a source of wisdom on loving and living.
There is a cycle of love and death that shapes the lives of those who choose to travel in the company of animals. It is a cycle unlike any other. To those who have never lived through its turnings or walked its rocky path, our willingness to give our hearts with full knowledge that they will be broken seems incomprehensible. Only we know how small a price we pay for what we receive; our grief, no matter how powerful it my be, is an insufficient measure of the joy we have been given.
Writing in his essay, "The Once Again Prince," animal lover and gifted writer Irving Townsend summed it up:
"We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan."
It is a fragile circle. But it goes round and round without end.
-Suzanne Clothier: If A Dog's Prayers Were Answered, Bones Would Rain From the Sky (2005)