Friday, September 2, 2011

Loving What Vanishes

Man is in love
And loves what vanishes;
What more is there to say?
--W. B. Yeats

Perhaps no literary form is harder to master than the obituary. Complicated by a grieving heart, the effort to encapsulate the magnitude of a life in a few brief paragraphs is laughable—if one were able to laugh, at such a time. Memories flood in, too subtle and too precious to convey. All the nuances, subtleties and vagaries of the life now departed defy description. One is left with a handful of cold facts so stripped of personality as to be almost generic.

So, let us agree at the outset that we all recognize the weightiness of the passing of any loved one; how the heart founders and sinks, leaden, in the chest; how the sudden truncation of certain habits of relationship leave one adrift and confused; how a keen longing to have the event reversed rises up, against one’s most logical protestations, only to be dashed down again, a dozen times a day. Having established that territory of the bereft, we can commiserate, one with another, for one thing is certain: we each will have this experience in life and more than once.

Today, it is my sad burden to say that Misha, whose apparent demise and miraculous reincarnation I reported in my posting of August 3rd, has really passed over the threshold this time, as of 6 PM, yesterday. Our household is a hushed and heavy one, today. Maclovio, Misha’s constant sidekick, is curled on the couch as if against a cold wind, and the cats, Panda and Sophia, having less to say about their own needs than usual, have eaten their crunchies perfunctorily and departed into the garden.

Because there is no way to convey the joy that he brought to all our hearts, I will not try. I will report only the bare facts: that each morning, he greeted my arising with a solid thump thump thump of his tail against the hardwood floor; that he would sit up on his haunches and throw his front legs about my thighs and give me a big morning hug; that he loved his ritual dog bone and actually pranced at the sight of his breakfast; that he spent the day repositioning himself, so as to be in constant view of me and my projects; that he barked ferociously at all supposed impediments to our communal safety; that he was unfailing in this, to his last breath.

I would like to say that I knew my friend Misha well, but I recognize that he was given to secrets and lived a life of his own, quite apart from mine. There is the matter of buried treasures, for which he has, alas, left no map; and of his nighttime journeyings, often with his part-wolf girlfriend from up the road, Kia. Their biggest nocturnal find was the rotting leg from the carcass of a deer killed by a mountain lion. Their biggest fight was over a square of chamois, green and slimy from burial. Their needs together were primal and mutual, a bond most humans should envy.

Misha was a rescue dog who came to me, abused and shaken, from the city. He took to country life with gusto and never looked back. He had the unrestrained freedom of the entire mountain as his domain and all the neighboring dogs as his buddies and girlfriends. He pranced down the road with a distinctively graceful gait, lifted his leg in arabesque and ran like the wind. My friend Javier called him Ojos de Miel, Honey Eyes, both for the clear amber color of his eyes and their liquid sweetness of expression.

He had two great fears: loud noises and water. From the former I could not shield him, as this is an area in which gunshots are frequently heard and where thunder and lightning often blaze across the ridge. But from the latter I could give him a reprieve. He avoided me, when I was in the garden with a hose in hand, and did his surveillance on my behalf from a distance. He is the only dog with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing my home who never had a bath. It would have been too traumatizing. We compromised on daily brushing, and his evident pleasure was a model: now his three siblings line up each morning to have the curry comb stroked down their spines, too.

Those are the simple facts of our existence together. For him there will be no plaque proclaiming him African Devil Dog, as we jokingly used to call him when he and Kia spent frenzied hours whirling in mock battle and he would come home covered in red dirt, exhausted and happy. No diploma in psychology, although he worked a subtle alchemy on my husband that softened his heart and opened him to true relationship with another species. Certainly no AKC papers for his mixed boxer-pitbull heritage. He is like those simple souls we read about in the paper each night, with obits that read “she liked to knit;” “he built birdhouses;” “she loved to bake cookies for her grandchildren.” His is basically a life well-lived, honest, valiant and focused on the common weal but unsung, with all its mystery and richness going down into earth with him, inside his soft brindled amber and black skin.

For Misha, for all who sleep, now, in the arms of Earth, let our hearts be both heavy and warm, today. In loving, we encompass a mystery. In losing love, we encounter mystery that is fathomless. We are in love and love what vanishes. What more is there to say?

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