My Talk With Red.
"Nearer to the earth's heart, deeper with its silence, Animals know this world in a way we never will." – To Bless The Space Between Us, by John O'Donohue, thanks to Patricia Wright for sending it to me.
I am anxious about tomorrow, when we will most likely learn what Red is suffering from, yet I am not fearful. I feel a strange calm and comfort about tomorrow, and I am not entirely sure why.
Red and I had our big moment yesterday afternoon, and another life lesson for me, when he lay nearly unconscious in large hospital bay in the veterinary office, hooked up to an IV meant to ease his advancing dehydration. Red had a high fever, and my vet, usually cheerful and unflappable, could not mask her concern.
I am cursed in a way by being a rationalist and skeptic ever drawn to mysticism and spirituality. I live between the two worlds and the animals in my life are always tugging at me to open up and see the world in a different way.
Red is much-loved in the vet's office, as he is everywhere he goes. I am not loved in anything like the way he is, and his constant presence by my side is a perpetual reminder to me of the difference between being sweet and adored, and, well…being something else.
Red humbles me through his ability to connect with people. To walk alongside Red is to sometimes feel invisible and remote.
The staffers at the hospital welcome me and urged me to go sit with Red for as long as I liked. They are used to my camera, and pay no attention to it. One of them got me a chair, another put her hand on my shoulder and saw my face and tried to comfort me. "He'll be all right," she said, "she practices good medicine," she said, referring to the vet.
Being comfort is in itself sometimes alarming to me, I would rather not have anything in my life I need to be comforted about.
I felt quite conspicuous and a bit embarrassed, looking down at Red, who could barely keep his eyes open, but managed to wag his tail when he saw me.
All I had to do was look into the eyes of the staff to see that this was serious and they were concerned. They were professional, but they are also quite human. I am a former police reporter, I haunted hospitals and accident scenes, and I know that look all too well. It is rarely good news.
Red's eyes could melt steel, and I pushed the chair aside and lay down on the floor next to his crate. I opened the door and leaned in and pulled out my camera and took a photo. Red knows me and what I'm like and he lifted his head and posed for me without being asked. Then he put his head down on my hand and I put the camera away, and we lay together like that for the longest time.
Red's genius in therapy work is his ability to make continuous eye contact with people who wish to be with him, he seems to look right into their souls, and I believe he often looks deeply into mine. If you are a sick person in hospice or an elderly resident in an assisted care facility or nursing home, that look can mean everything. Red sees everything there is to see.
He and I rarely need to speak to one another, we just are. Maria can testify that I almost never have to ask Red to do something, he knows before I do what it is I want him to do, I often don't need to speak.
It occurred to me that morning that I had just published a book about talking to animals, and yet, I had not really communicated with Red about what was happening to him. It was embarrassing in a way, as if what I wrote in the book had somehow, in this moment, became disconnected from my life, which seemed all too real at the moment. Was it for real, or not?
The possibility of Red's dying was very real yesterday, or so it seemed and so I believed.
His look told me he was in pain and suffering and disoriented, I believed I saw great sorrow in his eyes, as if we were saying goodbye to one another. Red has hardly been sick a day in his life, and I think this was very new and disorienting to him. When I watched him, I sat there sniffling and he rested his head on my arm and closed his eyes. We stayed that way for a long time.
Red seemed so much worse at the end of the day than at the beginning. I was disheartened.
Let's talk a bit, I said, and I closed my eyes and cleared my head and felt his heartbeat and warmth and heard his sights and labored breathing, and the hum and beep of the IV monitor. And we spoke to one another, we connected and exchanged images and emotions. Dogs do not speak in words, I believe, but Red uses his instincts to understand me and I use mine to understand him.
And since I do have words, I use them to translate.
I asked Red what was happening inside of him, and I asked him what he intended to do. He responded, I felt it almost instantly. Red is what I call a Spirit Dog, he comes for a reason, he leaves when his work is finished. He will not be waiting for me on the Rainbow Bridge to come and throw balls for him for all eternity when I die. And good for him, he is better than that.
I am miserable, he said, sick in my stomach, fevered in my body, aching in my joints and limbs. I don't understand what is happening to me.
Are you dying? I asked. No, he said, I am sick, but not ready to die. I'm not done here yet, with you or your world. We have a lot of good work to do. Try to take it easy and see this as a fierce storm passing through me. It happens, but I am stronger than it, and it will pass through me. Don't be sad, don't be alarmed.
Red asked me to trust the process, and he asked me not to be afraid for him, or for me. He had not come to make me sad. He told me he wasn't like the other dogs I had lost, he wasn't ready to leave, he wasn't done. You still need me, he said. Your world needs me now. We are doing good.
I sat with him for an hour, and slipped out of the clinic without seeing anyone. I replaced the chair they had brought me. I had texted Maria this: "he doesn't look good at all." And when I came outside, she was waiting for me in her little blue car. She was worried about me.
I told him what I believed Red had said to me. "He isn't ready to leave," I said. "He isn't going to die." At many points in my life, I would have rolled my eyes at this conversation and simply not believed it. Dogs and people can't talk to one another. Many of us know otherwise. If Red hadn't told me this, I couldn't have known it and wouldn't have assumed it, I have a long history of worry.
Maria nodded and said she completely understood.
But the conversation changed the dynamic for me.
After that talk with Red, I had no real fear. I slept well, wrote about him on the blog, as I had promised to do. When I brought Red into the veterinary clinic this morning, Suzanne – Dr. Fariello – asked me if I had any news to report. I said, I did.
I told her about the eating and the sleeping, and also that I had communicated with Red.
I believed he was not about to die, he would get well, he wasn't finished with his life and work here, there was much to do. I just feel he will get well, I said, asking her "does this make sense to you?" Of course, she said, taking notes. "It makes perfect sense to me, and it is helpful for me to hear it."
She even wrote it in her chart.
So that's what I believe, and that's how I feel. I put up a poster earlier about our June Open House, and someone quickly posted a message on Facebook which said "I sincerely hope this means Red is getting better?" Rhonda meant no harm, she was just being hopeful.
But I thought about perspective, and of how animals, who do not know of death or envy or ambition, seem to be born with perspective, while human beings struggle to find it. It is my belief that Red will get well, and that the news tomorrow will be good. That is what I truly believe. If that doesn't happen, our rich lives will continue, the earth will not stop moving around the sun.
My own life teaches me to be humble and self-aware. Life happens to all of us, and I am not doing God's work and I am no God myself.
I cannot see the future.
A meaningful life cannot center only on one thing, not even a wonderful human being, let alone a wonderful dog. I have learned to accept life as it happens, not as I wish it to happen. And I will not tell lies to myself about my life.
So I could of course, be wrong, as I have been so many countless times in my life.
But I like the peace I feel, and the calm it brings.
I think that is part of the message from Red. He has come to ground me, to guide me to the next phase of my life, and to help me prepare for my own mortality. He is a magical helper on the hero journey. He has come to show me to do good, rather than argue about what is good, and he practices what he preaches, and thus leads me to love and fulfillment. He is an Ambassador Of Good.
He knows this world in a way I never will.
Animals can touch our hearts and polish up our souls if we let them. So that is the story of my quite remarkable talk with Red yesterday, in his crate in a veterinary hospital as he lay fighting for breath and stability.
We had a good talk.