Have you ever been casually driving perhaps on a cloudy afternoon and all of a sudden, a song comes on the radio that mentally catapults you back to a time years and years ago with memories you thought were long gone?
For some reason last week, I was listening to an oldies station and they played this song called “Mr. Bojangles.” At that moment I remember as a young teenager listening to that song and feeling sad about the man who seemed to be all alone except for his best friend, a dog. The line from one of the verses that truly stood out to me was “the dog up and died, up and died, and after twenty years he still grieves.” I remembered then wondering how that would actually feel, grieving for an animal. At that time because of allergies, a small house, and college looming in the distance, I couldn’t know. It wasn’t until I was thirty years old that I had my first dog. And since then I continued to adopt canine companions for quite a stretch of time, but it wasn’t until I met the one dog that even today makes me smile even while I offer you this memory.
Thirty years ago, I decided to look for a four-legged companion for what I thought were going to be just the next few years of my life. What I could not have imagined is that this little beast would make me laugh, make me cry and eventually fill some of the most wonderful gaps of time for the next 17 years. When I first clapped eyes on her it was only two weeks after she was born snuggling next to her brothers and sisters trying to stay warm during a cold and rainy December. Her first owners had seen the shape of a bear in her little plump first appearance and immediately named her “Bear.” It was also during that December that I remember a particular reading from the Old Testament about Samuel’s mother Hannah and I knew instinctively what would be her name but without forgetting the first human words she must have heard, I simply named her “Hannah Bear.”
It was then I fully understood the words of a poem by Rudyard Kipling, entitled “The Power of the Dog:”
“Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie—
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.”
Kipling’s work addressed the sad facts of a dog’s short life and how that life brings one so much joy and then so much sorrow. I could not have agreed with him more. Lord Byron also had a unique and poignant insight when he wrote the inscription that to this day still hovers his dog’s grave:
“Near this Spot are deposited the Remains of one who possessed
Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG…”
I am sure that every dog owner believes that his or her puppy is special, outstanding, and worthy of medals and trophies and while that is certainly true, these creatures do a little bit more. They help us remember how truly wonderful God is to each and everyone of us. Take for instance this beautiful little song written by Wendy Francisco:
I look up and I see God, I look down and see my dog.
Simple spelling G-O-D, same word backwards, D-O-G.
They would stay with me all day. I’m the one who walks away.
But both of them just wait for me, and dance at my return with glee.
Both love me no matter what – divine God and canine mutt.
I take it hard each time I fail, but God forgives, dog wags his tail.
God thought up and made the dog, dog reflects a part of God.
I’ve seen love from both sides now, it’s everywhere, amen, bow wow.
I look up and I see God, I look down and see my dog.
And in my human frailty…I can’t match their love for me.
Instead of imparting more than a few little hilarious episodes about my pet, I will just let you know that having Hannah Bear by my side helped me relate to many people and speak tenderly about friendship, loyalty, exciting fun in this life, and grief. There were even times that these selfless experiences of dog ownership helped ease and heal the typical grief of others who experienced those powerful emotions when “real” people died. When it was time for my Hannah Bear to go to the vet one last time, I refused to cry. I dressed up as fine as I could and carried her like a prom queen. Before she slipped away, I stared into her eyes and gave her my last command: “Wait for me!”
I wish someone had given Jesus a dog. As loyal and loving as mine.
To sleep by His manger and gaze in His eyes and adore Him for being divine.
As our Lord grew to manhood His faithful dog, would have followed Him all through the day.
While He preached to the crowds and made the sick well and knelt in the garden to pray.
It is sad to remember that Christ went away. To face death alone and apart.
With no tender dog following close behind, to comfort its Master’s Heart.
And when Jesus rose on that Easter morn, how happy He would have been,
As His dog kissed His hand and barked it’s delight, for the One who died for all men.
Well, the Lord has a dog now, I just sent Him mine, the old pal so dear to me.
And I smile through my tears on this first day alone, knowing they’re in eternity.
Day after day, the whole day through, wherever my road inclined,
Four feet said, “Wait, I’m coming with you!” And trotted along behind. (Rudyard Kipling)
Well, it has been thirteen years now since Hannah Bear left for her well-deserved extended vacation, and after all this time, I can’t say that I’m grieving. Rather, I am rejoicing over the most wonderful ways that God showers down His love for you and me in all the most unexpected places and through the most gallant noble of creatures.
Life is great, isn’t it?Share your thoughts (100 thoughts)