Ode to Dogness

For the last nine years I have had the privilege of sharing my life with a wonderful dog named Duke. We adopted Duke from the SPCA in Sacramento, CA when he was one year old and already 85 pounds (he is now 105, bigger than a supermodel!). I would pay good money to see photos of his puppy stage, all head and paws I imagine. We get asked all the time what breed he is and my favorite answer is that he is part polar bear (he is big and white) and part dragon (think of Falcor the luck-dragon in the movie The Never-Ending Story). Several years ago when we lived in San Francisco next to Golden Gate Park, I was there with Duke and a little girl whose face was as high as Duke’s head, turned around, eyes widening when she saw him, she exclaimed in a voice of sheer wonder and delight: POLAR BEAR! I loved that she thought she was face to face with a polar bear and it seemed to give her nothing but pure and spontaneous glee.

Duke teaches me many things about creativity and mostly they have to do with listening to the rhythms and needs of the body: his uncontained, embodied exuberance when I return home from being out; the profound joys of napping; the world of smells and sounds on our walks; his steadfast companionship through many difficult times; the great mystery of his dream life when I see his toes twitching and hear muffled barking through his pink lips (and he never barks in waking life so I really wonder what he is dreaming about); his deep, heavy sighs that often have perfect timing, leading me to believe he understands everything we are saying; the simplicity and beauty of his mere presence in my life, sharing my space with another species; imagining his wild beating heart propelling him forward in this world with longings and desires I can only imagine. For me, Duke is the warm furry presence of the holy as well as a dimension of the ultimate impenetrable Mystery.

Duke is getting older, and so my thoughts sometimes turn to the dreaded anticipation of needing to let him go eventually. He is still healthy, but turns 10 this summer and for me, one of the cosmic injustices of the world is that larger dogs do not live as long as smaller ones. I treasure his presence in my life, I have been immeasurable enriched. Sometimes I joke that my husband and I have had him for 9 of the 12 years of our marriage, I am not sure we even know how to be married without him around, he is so woven into the fabric of our family.

Duke also teaches me about humility, in his daily reminder that the world is so much bigger than human consciousness.  The creative life is, in part, about widening our perspectives, and imagining new or different ways of being. The creatures in our lives can offer us a window into the intimacy and mystery of the divine.  What creatures in your life offer you this gift?

~Christine Valters Paintner

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