Editor’s note: trigger warning for animal death
Mandy was my first teacher in “The Things Which Truly Matter.” Love, enlightenment, connection. Lessons I have come to cherish as a person simply trying to figure out what it means to be a human becoming.
Half border-collie, half mutt. Mandy was a rescue pup who didn’t know her own name or understand that language was a thing. Say anything in a high pitched voice with excitement and she would take that to mean “come here and get a belly rub.”
Considering the ratio of belly rubs to vet visits, seemed to work out well for her.
She had a nose for good things. No, it was more than that. She expected good things and that expectation became self-fulfilling prophecy. A snuggle by the campfire, a hamburger set aside special just for her, an unexpected scratch behind the ears. Mandy would put herself right in the middle of everyone and wait for good things yo happen. Eventually they did.
By no means is this to say bad things didn’t happen. We all have our own version of vet visits and lonely afternoons. However, there are bad days, then there are Bad Days. On one particularly Bad Day I was swinging on the tire swing within the shady embrace of the ceder, pine, and birch trees in our front yard. Mandy came slinking into the yard, head down, tail low, and a soft whimper announcing her presence. Her every step shouted pain. She’d been smacked across the nose by a porcupine and had no idea of what to do about the quills.
I rushed across the yard, wrapped my arms around her and summoned my parents by the most efficient means I knew. I screamed my bloody head off.
My father tortuously pulled quills from her face with a pair of pliers while I wept at the necessity.
For the next month I snuck out my window each night and cuddled with Mandy in the dirt underneath the front deck until she fell asleep, then crawled back inside to bed, dirt smudged on my face.
About a year later, it was my turn to have a Bad Day. A bee stung me dead center of my palm while I played in the sandbox. IT HURT! It hurt more than falling out of a tree, more than slamming into a wall when learning to ride a bike, and more than being whipped by my father’s leather belt. I fell to the sand as if slain and wailed.
Mandy, cool as can be, flopped down next to me, forced her head under my arms and began licking my face. She didn’t do a thing to make it stop hurting, but she did make everything better.
These two experiences sum up what Mandy taught me of suffering. When there is pain, seek togetherness. Back then we were both young pups, still wet behind the ears. Years later, when I was growing from an impish incorrigible child into an angsty rebellious teen, Mandy was not just aging but aged.
Throughout middle school I spent many hours sitting in the yard, one arm wrapped around Mandy while reading a book with the other. Her left eye was clouded and she couldn’t move like she used to. Stairs were increasingly a problem for her arthritic hips. One afternoon, after another bad day of school, I watched Mandy walk up to me. She never did figure out that if she stayed I would come to her. She hobbled over, head down, tail low, her every movement whispered pain.
And I sat down.
And she sat down.
And we cried together.
Later that week we went to the vet. Mandy and I sat in the grass just outside the double glass doors. I held Mandy’s head. My sibling and parents stood nearby. The vet put the needle to a vein in Mandy’s back leg and pushed the plunger down. I held her cooling body and wept while my father got the SUV.
We buried her beneath the apple trees in the field beside the forest in Priest River. I held her one last time in the bottom of her grave, dirt smudged on my tear streaked face.
Mandy taught me some of the most important lessons I ever learned.
Expect good things.
When there is pain, seek togetherness.
Love and let go.