Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Crippled Shepherd from Taiwan

Normally, this blog is to update you all about what is going on in my classroom, but I wanted to take the time to honor my beautiful, Allie, as she passed away recently.  Here is the video when she first entered the U.S.  Her illness ended up being more complicated, but it still makes me happy to see here here-young and excited!

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” – Khalil Gibran

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.[1] Some moments are best summed up in the before and after.  What we were like before the event, and then afterward.  We cannot go back, because we no longer exist in the same context.  I suppose I never believed that there would be an after for us. I’d been consumed with recovering from bigger things, harder things.  Endless hours of counseling appointments, pinning comfort on Pinterest, reading my bible and filling journals.  Somewhere along our ten-year adventure more white had appeared atop her head, and her limp became more pronounced.  Ever ready for adventure, her eyes sparkled through growing cataracts and her mischievous way of waiting behind the door to startle people still remained.  A reliable, constant, steady in the storms life threw at me.  Peace in its rarest form. 

Broken is holy.  Broken people.  Broken bodies.  Broken places.  Broken moments.  Broken animals.  Broken hearts. Broken promises. Broken lives.  God has been showing me that grief is just love with nowhere else to go.  We grieve loss, because it slowly heals us.  There was a time when I wouldn’t allow myself to feel any of it.  Would run the other way to “numb” and avoid the big feelings.  The ones that threaten to overtake you like a wave at the shore.  Broken is holy.  It’s the cracks that let in the light.  The cracks that teach me, you, all of us, about our need for relief.  So I chose to look.  I see her curled up on the large pillow with the rickety box fan blowing over the brown and white coat I’ve stroked and soaked with my tears.  Her eyes were closed and her breathing slow, but steady.  All the moments we’d had together.  The millions of one-sided conversations we’d shared seemed to engulf me.  But I chose to keep looking.  I picked up my journal and penned these simple words, “My German shepherd, Allie, is dying as I write this.”  Pain slaps my chest and I breathe in quickly.  All at once, I’m angry.  I’m angry at all the times I wasted not taking her to the park, just being quiet and breathing with her, brushing her fur or telling her how much I loved her. We had hurried through our last moments on our vacation, not letting her soak in the water, but it was one of her favorite things. Why didn’t I just stop? Would it have changed anything?  No, but it would have brought her joy.  Didn’t she deserve it?  She waited for me, as a gentle, strong companion, and the thoughts of being without her made me feel panicked.  Exposed.  Vulnerable.  Unguarded.

She opened her eyes and looked at me, content, but weary.  “I’m still here.” I reassured her, my own voice sounding raw and foreign to me.  Broken moments are holy.  

Allie wasn’t afraid of brokenness.  She’d never known anything else.  It was her way of life. We’d rescued her from an organization who had received her from Taiwan, a few months earlier. Speculations could only be made about the conditions of her birth which left her hips deformed and crippled.  Her left hip was higher than her right, causing her hind legs to grapevine as she moved forward at her steady gait.  How could something so broken love life?  Perhaps we are too keenly aware of comparisons and what “should be” that we miss the glimpses of glory all around us.  Could we stop and look?  What would we see?  We had some perfect days, my broken beauty and I.  Quietly sitting in freshly cut grass, sunshine in our faces as the wind tickled the leaves, and the world quieted down for a moment.  She allowed me into her happiness and contentment.  Simply happy to be alive.  To belong to someone.  Safety in the stillness. Wading in cold water and sharing the end of my yogurt.  My heart used to ache thinking about how she had once been alone, maybe in a park looking for a mother who was playing with young children, with possible snacks to share or scavenging in trash cans. Food guarding was quite the issue in the beginning.  My poor, old Dalmatian, Odie, just didn’t get it, and ended up in more fights than necessary, as he seemed to learn the same lesson every day.  I could almost hear him muttering, “Note to self.  She’s going to hurt me if I look in her bowl.” After receiving a rather large hole in his chest, my vet told him, “Well, Odie, I have some good news and bad news for you.  The good news is that this hole will heal.  The bad news is that you have to go back home and live with the shepherd.”  Little, old man. Glory be there came a day when he approached her bowl and her eyes lifted to me.  It was a question posed to a possible pack leader, “You going take care of this for me, or do I need to show him my ninja warrior skills, again?”  “I’ve got him.  Just keep eating,” I told her moving him away.  And that was the end of it.  No more dog fights. She had trusted me to help her.  How easily we don’t ask for help, but Allie did.   Her delight to eat never waned, as she waited an extra twenty minutes at each feeding for her enzyme powder to activate.  Allie also had Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) a condition that occurs when the pancreas fails to provide the necessary amount of digestive enzymes.  I purchased it online in kilos, making me feel like a drug dealer, every time. Occasionally, she would get some of the powder on her lips causing burns that required Carmex and her poop was never solid.  Her gentleness calmed other dogs, and was respected in our German shepherd dog pack, we played with.  She may have run behind, a bit slower, but younger/stronger dogs acknowledged her authority and submitted to her.  It was at the Dog Park that she became my dog.  Several dogs were at the entrance, and Allie had given herself the honorary title of The Greeter.  No dog entered without her introductions of bottom smelling and face licking.  This particular owner looked stressed and overwhelmed as her small dogs barked in fear, and I could almost predict all the horrible stories of German shepherds she had playing in her mind.  It’s a look I received often. “Allie, come!”  I called out to her and she turned around to look my way.  My friend laughed beside me, as he had grown accustomed to her stubbornness, expecting her to actively defy me.  Much to my surprise, she turned and walked over to me.  My joy wasn’t easily hidden as I praised her and wrapped my face into her neck.  She was my dog.  She trusted me.  To hold such trust is precious.  The moment was simple, yet, beautiful.  Complete trust and surrender. 

As she lay in front of me, memories of our busy life swirled around her.  Days soaking in the river, nibbling on the anxious puppy we acquired after Odie passed, licks of Sonic milkshakes, barking to incite riots at the backyard fence with other dogs, howling at Lowe’s as we drove by (because she got extra treats when we visited), or camping out at the top of the stairs to survey her kingdom, and scare the crap out of all pizza delivery guys.  Nothing brought me more delight than watching her jog toward a herd of unsuspecting sheep we found on a prairie heading to the Grand Canyon.  Her whole body moved with purpose and intention.  When we are in our calling and purpose, we forget our regrets, limitations and fears, we can simply run, free.  The sheep herded as the Shepherd came close.  She never belonged to me, as much as I belonged to her.  I had full reassurance that she was on my side, and readily available for anything, as long as we were together.  In our love, she was never broken.  Wholeness happens where love is.  The broken have always been drawn toward the Healer. They find their Home. Children were never worried near her, often wrapping their arms around her broad shoulders and would laugh as she would flop onto her back and roll around sneezing in delight.  Her love changed people who encountered her.  “God, let me be like my dog.  Let people feel better in my presence”, I often thought as I watched her interact with her world. There was something about me that only my dog understood and accepted. A new throb began, a new realization- all things end.  Old dogs outlive their bodies, because of we love them with all we have.  In my mind, she was running across the prairie toward her purpose, not quietly dying in front of my eyes.  “Please, don’t leave me here, without you,” my heart screamed at her.  Strange, that I knew she heard me.  “Don’t you die on me, Allie.” I said into her fur, after I crawled beside her to wrap around all the reassurances I found close to her.  She let out a sigh.  She moved her muzzle close to my skin and breathed me in.  I’m immediately aware that she will not be the one to part us. It will come down to me. 

 Through her silence, she seemed to ask me the question I never wanted to entertain,
“Do you love me enough to break your own heart?”  The hardest part of grief is the moment that there is no going back.  The blackness swirled around on the ultrasound. It wasn’t air that I was seeing, it was all the blood inside her stomach.  A tumor had ruptured, as a wail escaped my body.  Everything in me wanted to step in front of her, to shoulder this burden, as she had been so faithful in her brokenness to always carry me.  I took her face in my hands as I drenched her face with my tears, she closed her eyes as I cried “No” a thousand times over her.  How was this fair after the life she had?  How could it be over?  How could she leave me behind?  “She’s too weak to operate, Wystie.” My vet had tears on her cheeks.  Broken moments are holy.

 “Do it fast,"I cried into my dog. Instantly, I was overwhelmed and burdened to say all I needed to say to her in her last  few minutes.  “I love you so much.  I love you, Allie.   It’s going to be okay.”  I began to pray, as my dog looked at me and died.  It took less than a minute, and she was gone.  The moment she entered my life, she changed everything. 

Grief, I’ve learned is really just love.  It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot.  All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and that hollow part in your chest.  Grief is just love with no place to go.[2]

If I close my eyes, I can see her running without effort through a prairie full of grass, wildflowers and lavender.  She barks to show me the way, stopping to turn in circles, unable to contain her excitement.  “What took you so long?  You won’t believe how beautiful it is here!  I’ve been waiting for you to show you the way home.”

[1] Washington Irving quote
[2] Jamie Anderson quote, misc.

We adopted Allie from Northwest German Shepherd Rescue.
Consider them, if you are in the market for a miracle dog like mine. :)