Saturday, August 11, 2012
All About Ivory (Musings on Faith)
Ivory is our dog, who we adopted as a puppy from the pound and who is now eleven years old. She is an all-around perfect dog, being all things that a dog should be: a sweet, cuddly companion; an alarm dog at night and a fierce protector against strangers; an excellent farm dog, killer of rats and herder of goats.
Also, as you can see, she is just about the cutest dog who ever lived. We love Ivory beyond all reason. We love her excessively, rediculously. There was never any choice about bringing her with us or not bringing her with us - the thought of spending a year without Ivory was just not even worthy of entertaining.
The trip, however, has not been easy on Ivory. Starting about a month ago, when we began emptying out the house and rearranging everything, Ivory noticed something was amiss and she was nervous about it. Always a little high strung, she began to chew on her tail and lick her paws raw. The vet prescribed a mild sedative for the trip, but once we actually got in the car and started traveling, she settled down so nicely that we haven't used it.
On our second night in a hotel, we almost lost her, due entirely to my own stupidity. At home, Ivory sleeps with us, and if she needs to go out in the night (which she often does, being eleven) she gets up, stands by the door, and flaps her ears. I mean, she shakes her head vigorously, and her large ears make a loud flapping sound that wakes me up instantly. I open the door and let her out, go pee myself, and when I get back from the bathroom I let her back in. This is all automatic pilot, you understand.
We were staying in the most enormous Motel 6 I've ever seen, a gigantic complex made up of four large two story buildings, right off the I-10 in San Bernadino. When Ivory's flapping ears awakened me at about 4:30 a.m., I launched into my regular somnambulant routine - opened the door and went to the bathroom. As I was sitting mostly asleep on the toilet, Homero barged in, irate, and demanded "what the hell have you done? Ivory is gone!"
I don't know what I was thinking; maybe that she would pee right next to the door on the upper balcony? Of course she had found the stairs and gone looking for greener pastures. She was gone. The next ten minutes were some of the scariest of my life. Homero and I pulled on our pants and went running barefoot around the complex, whistling and calling. Horrible scenarios went through my mind, of Ivory running along the interstate, hungry, thirty, tired, and lost. Of Ivory picked up and dropped off in some awful suburban pound, where she would be euthanized because of her age. I knew I would never, ever be able to forgive myself, and I knew my family would never forgive me, either.
When Ivory came wiggling up to me from the scanty bushes behind the farthest building, I was so relieved I cried. My husband quite rightly chastised me harshly, but I didn't care. She was back. After that we kept her on a leash every time she left the van.
For the last several days, we have been at my Dad's house in Tucson. Dad and his wife, Joann, have two dogs. They are Noodles, a completely innocuous schnauzery-type female; and Pooka, a recent acquisition. Pooka was a rescue, a full grown male found wandering in the desert. Pooka is medium-large, totally unsocialized, and on our second day here he bit Ivory for no reason that we could determine. Poor Ivory now has half her eyebrow hanging off. She is fairly traumatized. Pooka hasn't made any further aggressive gestures toward her, but Ivory is slinking around the house on her belly, casting a wary eye into all corners. She doesn't even want to go outside to pee unless we are right beside her.
Here's the thing I've been thinking about: Ivory is on the same adventure that I am on, but Ivory is not here of her own volition. Ivory has been conscripted. She doesn't know what lies ahead, where she is going or what awaits her. I have been moaning about my own uncertainty for months, but Ivory knows far less than I do. She is going one hundred percent on faith: faith, poor thing, in me.
In a way, I almost envy her. She has us to rely on: she may not know where she is, where we are taking her or why, but she surely knows that we love her and will care for her. She has no uncertainty about where her food is coming from, and no fear of being abandoned. She simply follows us, wherever we ask her to go, trusting us and loving us. Life may be temporarily hard and confusing, but our presence is a rock for her, we are her constant, and while she is with us, she will fear no evil.
I wish I had such a constant. This trip was my decision, and here I am, lying in the bed I made. If I am afraid, if I am uncertain, I have only my own guidance. Or do I? It's been several weeks now since I went to church, but thinking about Ivory's simple faith has made me think about my own. This is not a straightforward parallel analogy: I am not a dog, and unlike Ivory, my own free will has brought me here. But perhaps there are similarities. Perhaps I also have a steadfast companion. Perhaps there is a loving presence that I can rely on as well.
It is true for me, as it is for Ivory, that the presence of a loving friend will not save me from pain or fear. Ivory has suffered anxiety on this trip, and the fear of being lost, and physical pain. I have suffered, and will continue to suffer anxiety, fear and discomfort. This is not a sign that faith is lacking, or evidence that God is absent. Faith does not save anyone from these things. God does not save anyone from these things. Those with the strongest faith suffer from fear and pain as much as do the faithless.
But they do not suffer alone.
Who has not said in their heart, to God or to a human friend, "if you are with me, I can withstand anything?" Who has not found the strength to be that source, that companion, for another? A mother for a child, a husband for a wife, and even an owner for a dog? Every one of us has felt the gift of compassion from outside ourselves, and been moved to offer that gift as well. Our pain is no less real for being shared, but it is certainly less burdensome.
This is another thing I have to thank Ivory for. What a wise spirit, to guide me, even as I think I am guiding her!