You commit yourself to something that is the call of your heart: kindness, a friendship, learning to love by learning to Tango, forgiving everyone for everything.… Then you do what matters most: align that commitment with action.
Over time, as your dedication is shaped by the grist of experience, things happen that are indistinguishable from magic. Out of nowhere, like finding a hundred dollar bill in an old shirt, you suddenly feel the ever-deeper sensation of doing that thing more completely than ever before.
You’re just that much more in harmony, that much more expansive, that much more at home. This happened to me recently: a surge in my attunement to the drumbeat of “Only Love.” Then, the next day, my dog Red disappeared.
This is how it goes I get the feeling. The strength of our intention is a magnetic force. It draws to us corresponding support and demand. God saying: “Here, dear one, let me help you apply your new level of awakening.” We don’t always realize that this is God giving us the shirt off her back. The one that reads “Motherfucker of Love.”
I’m 14, a student at a boy’s seminary slash prep school located adjacent to Watkins Glen State Park in the Finger Lakes of New York, a two-mile long gorge with 200 foot cliffs and 19 waterfalls. I spend a lot of time disobeying the rule forbidding us to leave the campus. I am compelled to explore the handiwork of water over stone through centuries. One day I come across two or three boys slightly older than I and unrelated to the seminary who had strung up a live kitten by each of its legs between two trees. Immobilized, I say nothing, just keep moving, pretend I don’t notice. The image, and my response, I’ve grieved ever since.
About twenty years later I meet the girl who will become my eldest daughter. Once she decided I was trustworthy enough, she told me the story of her biological father, in a rage, shooting and killing the family dog in front of her. She was five. (In a few years, he would shoot and kill himself almost as conspicuously.)
Searing memories, the abyss of possibilities, rage and unforgiveness at myself and others for harm real and imagined. And the scent of something beyond imagination: the experience of those parents whose child disappears. I knew there could come a time when I would hope Red was dead, and that I was able simply to recover his body.
Chasing deer with frantic abandon, Red has ended up miles overland, too far to hear my calls, too far to track his way back, not the first young, beautiful, lost dog to be kidnapped––or worse. An eager coyote hunter found Red in his sights and couldn’t resist pulling the trigger. Red stepped into the jaws of a beaver trap, like Sun, our first golden. Unlike Sun, Red wasn’t with Dear and a friend, and didn’t wait patiently while one of them ran for help while the other sat holding him. You hear of dogs chewing off their paw to get free. Our across-the-road neighbor’s dog disappeared overnight a few months back, returning home dragging a front leg, likely a hit-and-run victim. Several thousand dollars of vet expenses and he’s his usual bouncy self, just three-legged.
Red is five, the middle dog of our three golden retrievers, all boys. They and I have hiked the mountain we live on a few times a week since puppyhood. None of them has ever vanished for more than several minutes. We do, however, hike in wilderness of a sort. Anywhere from two to a dozen miles can be the distance to anything more maintained than a logging road. We were an hour’s trek from home, a thousand foot rise in elevation, high enough to see more than 50 miles from our favorite lookout. After a half-hour of backtracking and calling, and Red doesn’t pop up mud-covered from some joyful diversion, I decide to head home with the other boys, half expecting Red to appear before we get there, which of course doesn’t happen. In the next 24 hours, while my beloved is phoning everyone we can think of to be on the lookout, including the Sheriff, I hike back up and down the mountain three more times, calling, calling, looking everywhere I can for any sort of track––footprint, blood, Red himself in whatever shape.
Well, nothing but the stillness that cuts through my dishrag mind, reminding me, yet again, I asked for this: whatever it takes to grow only love, including my embrace of all the deaths essential to life.
Red’s reappearance was beautiful. The evening of the day he vanished, as dusk was completing its fold into night, temperatures on their way to below freezing, on a dirt road five miles from where I’d last seen him, a young couple with two dogs of their own, ending an afternoon hike, spotted a healthy young golden that was obviously “not at home where it should have been, and somebody was missing it for sure.” They put him in their truck and knocked on all the doors nearby. No luck, they took him to their home a few miles away, planning to call local vets in the morning to see if ID could be established via the rabies tag on his collar. Next day near noon we get a call from the Sheriff. “Check out the photo this person posted on Facebook.” And there Red was, lounging in the couple’s living room with two other dogs, they on the floor, Red on the couch.
Red was gone 30 hours, a measure having no correlation to experience, except perhaps in terms only a poet like Rumi could convey: A strong intention can make “seven hundred years” the time it takes to walk to someone you love.