I buried a dead dog today. I found it in the ditch. It had a nice red collar but no tags. I know it had been dead for quite awhile. It had been someone’s pet so I went to the effort to find a friend to help me retrieve it and give it a proper burial. Luckily the ground has thawed over the last few days so I wasn’t chipping through ice. I wrapped it in an old towel and planted some bulbs over it. It has a nice grave under a pear tree.
It was the right thing to do. I probably could have made animal control come get it. I could have just left it there and waited for the water to come and wash it away. I could have pretended I didn’t see it. It could have been my pet lost and far from home and left to be eating by wildlife and rot. Left for trash.
It took most of my morning. I’m getting behind on school this week. But it needed doing and somethings should not be procrastinated. So I did it.
Too many times in my life I have been deprived of the opportunity to bury things properly. I was reading Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness and thinking about how important a proper burial can be. I know how it is that when the past isn’t reconciled the present can’t ever quite add up and the future is lost. It’s a very small thing to bury an unknown dog. I have made some effort to ask around and advertise having found it because someone, somewhere is still wondering what happened to their beloved pet. We need to know that the bones of those we love are resting in peace.
I lost a cat without a trace many years ago. Some part of me is still convinced he got taken in and given a job as a Purina spokes-cat with the best food and beds and vets in the world. One night he just didn’t come home. There’s still an open place in my heart that can’t quite close without knowing what became of him. I know rationally that it’s been 11 years and that he wasn’t the brightest of cats in the first place. He was kind. He loved playing with babies. The vacuum didn’t scare him.
I don’t know how many times I have loved and lost. It’s not a good idea to keep a tally of such things. Maybe God keeps a record of how willing we are to keep loving when we still hurt. I sure don’t. It’s those holes that can’t be closed that can either fester or become the openings for light and goodness and growth. Most of my holes have been tiny doors where I try let God in. But not all of them.
There are a few holes that no matter what seem to collect dirt and evil and rot. The holes people have ripped without a backward glance. Those hurt and are hard to clean. And there’s no bones to bury, nothing but a hole. If I had a magic solution to that kind of pain I’d be stinking, filthy rich. But I don’t. Prayer and poetry are the only suggestions I have. And they both work in their own time, which usually isn’t right now.
If it is hard to forgive and move forward when you don’t have bones to bury, how do you grieve when you were deprived of even a name?
This is what is so evil and slick about people who want to keep relationships and secrets. It is the ultimate crazy-making. It’s like being told you never had a dog, the dog wasn’t yours, you didn’t really love it and feed it and pick up poop and throw sticks for it and scratch ears. All the while you are searching for your lost dog and hoping some stranger has found it and is looking after it almost as well as you would.
It’s those times we don’t get closure that we get to really learn the limits of our ability to forgive. I’m still finding mine. Or I should say, I’m still fighting mine. Some things are easy enough just to let go. It’s those gaping heart wounds that show who we really are. Do we still dare to love when we’ve been though the worst?
I do. Over and over I’ve dared to pick up and try again. I haven’t always done it well. Often the only thing more awkward than the drip down to land flat on my face is the effort to get back up. It would be easier to just stay down and never show my face again. But I’m not put together like that. So I find a poor lost, dead pet and I bury it. Because I am put together like that.
Not-so-secretly (now) dead things really creep me out. I’ve absorbed plenty of local superstition about ghosts. Sliding down the concrete ditch wall with a box and a towel and a pair of rubber gloves was not easy for me. OK, I was scared to touch it or move it or disturb it. It would have been much easier to have tried to pretend I didn’t know it was there and to hope someone else would take care of. But I did it the same way I’ve always gotten back up and tried again. By doing it. I pray and I go.
I’m actually quite a chicken. Inside I’m always afraid. But it doesn’t stop me. OK, sometimes it does stop me. I’ve been writing a lot of posts I never publish. Because I’m secretly scared someone might actually read my work. Because about this time last year someone jumped all over me for using a word he didn’t like. And bit by bit his nasty words wormed their way into my heart and had exactly the effect he had intended — to shame me into silence. To turn me into an un-buried dead thing.
I’m not dead. I don’t need buried. I’m still scared. The shaming of those words still rings in my ears. But I know one way to deal with it –write about it. And I know how to kill shame and secrets–make them public in some way. Tell someone. Get a big flashlight and crawl under there and make friends with those shadows. They aren’t quite as frightening after you hold their hands and introduce them to your readers. Just like dead animals are much less scary properly buried with flowers and prayers than they are lying there in the ditch staring at you.
I still don’t know how to forgive those really ugly, un-closed graves dug in the human heart. I’m trying to practice compassion for the digger, trying to really get it through my head that it’s a symptom of his own illnesses and injuries that makes him do things like he did. It’s easy to have compassion for people at a distance. It’s those who were closest and did the most evil that are really hard. Anyone can find compassion for starving children or victims of natural disasters or lost pets. But compassion for people who are cold, callous, cruel is much harder. Baby steps, little M, baby steps are still steps.