Holding his still warm and limp body in my arms, I could not even force myself to shed tears. He had been ill and we knew that he existed on borrowed time. Yet when the reality of his passing washed over me, the shock of it all was too immense: like a deep wound that cannot be felt in the moment. It would be many weeks before I was able to put words to paper…
All love stories have a beginning, and this one is no exception. I had found him at the pound after our pet Chihuahua was killed by one of the neighbor’s dogs. It was apparent that he had once belonged to a good home; perhaps he was once owned by elderly people? Regardless, this ragged long haired Pomeranian-Terrier mix looked up at me quietly from a cage chock full of barking creatures -- his eyes revealing a resigned misery. He would not compete for attention. Nevertheless, it was those brown soulful eyes that kept drawing me back to that cage.
That night, I could not forget about him in there. Rushing back the next day, I adopted him, got the requisite shots, and luckily found a groomer who would clean him up -- although it was late on a Saturday. Upon seeing him in his pristine form, I could not believe what a beautiful diamond had emerged from such a rough exterior. I brought him home to my family and he ran to my daughter’s arms. Within twenty minutes they were both asleep on her bed. It was a perfect match of heavenly proportions. She named him Simba after the character in The Lion King, although he looked more like a fox to me.
He was my daughter’s dog, but when she went away to school he became attached to me, and I to him. I walked him without a leash in the hills and around the neighborhood, yet he always stayed beside me. Simba’s nature was mild and enduring -- thoughtful and forgiving. Even in spite of rough treatment from little children who might occasionally pull his fur, he never bit anyone and would merely escape under the bed until the nuisance was gone. One thing was certain, he did not like people raising their voices or fighting.
Simba, like all the Fairmans, loved boating at the Colorado River. No vacation was complete without him. The only hitch was--he really hated the water. But nevertheless, he would ride in the bow of the boat, thrusting his head into the wind and loving it as the cool dry air washed over him. He would stay in the boat and sleep under the helm, or when on the beach, stay cool by digging himself a nice damp hole to lie down in. He even rode on the Sea Doo with Melinda, despite the general calamity that might ensue from such a rash action. As a finale, he would occasionally jump from the back of the boat into the water -- after twenty minutes of persistent coaxing from the kids.
A funny thing about dogs: they really don’t care what you look like, how much money you make, or what your status in life is. They are always there for you. Their love is never provisional or on hold. Even when I lost my way for a time, Simba was steadfast and true to the family. He never forgot his role or questioned the love of others. When you came home, he greeted you the same whether you had been away for an hour or a week. When Aaron and Melinda would come home for treasured visits from college, he met them as he always did -- with a spirit of unreserved joy. What a lesson we can learn from our pets. We, who become so entangled in our own foolish little worlds, spend our time as if it were the cheapest of mortal commodities. If only we knew what dogs know.
One day, Simba got loose at our friends’ home while we were at the beach. Upon returning, he was nowhere to be found. I combed the available websites in the area and finally found out that he had been taken to the Orange County Shelter. You have no idea how worried and guilt-ridden we were that our “special guy” was lost. When I hurried down the next morning and bailed him out, I stood in front of his holding cell for about thirty seconds before he recognized me and then began making his unique grunting noises. Yes, it was Déjà vu all over again. Someone asked me how much the ransom cost me. To tell the truth, I would have paid a thousand dollars.
The perfect dog can serve as an anchor for a family and be a catalyst for so many happy moments. Simba loved this ragged plush Beaver when he was younger and the entire family would play “keep away” with him and the wretched thing. Over time, all Simba’s toys became known as “the Beaver.” Perhaps my daughter said it most succinctly, “He was the bestest pup.” When Melinda would have friends over, they would dote on him and he loved the feminine attention. He loved to be sung to and I composed many an impromptu ditty to serenade him. And not once did he ever complain of the indignity.
In the fullness of time, God teaches us things of great importance that no book can ever hold. Children leave to begin their own lives and our cherished pets live out theirs in fast-forward. We fail to realize that every morning that we awaken, our dogs are a week older. We can no more arrest this process in them than we can in our children’s lives. And so the infinite sadness of loss knit by the sinews of time inevitably claims all that we would love. God has designed it that way. As my son so wisely said, “Without death, how could we cherish life?”
I am reminded of the incalculable lessons in the Creator’s moral economy. In pain, loving, suffering, and loss--counter to the dismal attitude of the world--we are stretched--we are excavated in our capacity to apprehend the eternal First Things. If truth be told, carnality, in submitting to suffering, grows jaded and despairs of life. However, in affixing our gaze upon God, He transmutes the ashes of our suffering into something wholly precious and valuable. Even the searing loss of our beloved pets.
I used to believe that animals did not possess a spark of the divine that the Father has surrendered over to mankind. I no longer am so certain. Simba taught my family how to love unconditionally and revealed to me that God finds pleasure in the simple and humble being. As he grew older and his health began failing, Simba’s life became a microcosm of my own. How will we handle our dwindling days? How will we redeem our precious time? I hope that one day I can love as unconditionally as he did. When the pain claims me, I pray that I am as brave as he was.
When Simba passed, the Fairman family felt deeply that it had lost a great friend, a true companion, and a bright spark in our lives. It should not surprise me that as Christ's love will one day make us real, our capacity to love, perfected by the lessons of our suffering, will move the Father of Lights to breathe eternal life into those noble little beings that so quickened our joy here on earth.
I pray that all who read this will cherish in their hearts this intuition, as my words are wholly unequal to the task. Who would have thought that such a simple dog could have made all the difference in our lives? In longing for those little ones entrusted to our care in the here and now, are we not now being prepared for our heart’s one true desire?