My Friend Stella — some thoughts about what comes after this
Today I’m spending the afternoon with my dear friend Stella. I’ve known Stella since she was a puppy – a puppy just about as cute as I was. Stella has always been much better behaved than I was, even then — a model of pooch behavior all her life. She’s helped her humans raise two beautiful children, she’s been a great watchdog (very loud!), and she’s spread love everywhere she’s gone (She’s even nice to cats, which you know I can’t say for myself).
So why am I writing this today? Why aren’t I tumbling around with Stella, play-fighting, sniffing around for special smells, chasing each other, and, when we’ve had enough of that, just curling up and snoozing next to each other till we get re-energized to do more craziness? Why aren’t we doing what we always do?
Because Stella’s ill. Very ill. With a nasty cancer that is eating her from the inside, so badly that I know today is our last playdate. She won’t be alive next week.
This isn’t anyone’s fault. Her humans have been as perfect with her as she’s been with them. She’s always eaten healthily; she hasn’t been victimized by secondhand smoke or radiation. It’s just one of those lousy things – she’s dying too young – and it’s simply not fair.
We sometimes hear, or even say, wishes that someone would just pass away. No one’s ever said that about Stella. When she gets put down, it will be because her people love her too much to let her suffer; they’d give anything to keep her alive if they could.
So this makes me think about those Big Questions. The sort I don’t have instant answers for, because no one does. Like what is death, and what happens to us after it, and what we’re living for if it’s just going to end someday.
When I say that no one has instant answers, I’m not disagreeing with, or denigrating, any religion. Rather, I honor the importance and power of any real faith, for its ability to give answers to these questions that move and give strength to those who believe. Because the questions that religions and faiths answer are the ones that observation and experience can’t. It doesn’t take any effort to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, but it takes a lot to truly believe in an afterlife – or to be sure there isn’t one.
But I will say, we dogs are extra-sensitive to certain… what should I call it… certain stuff. Haven’t you dog (or cat) owners noticed, at times, your pet reacting to something you can’t see or hear? I don’t mean hearing another dog barking who’s so far away you can’t hear it; I’m talking about that animal sensing something you can’t see or hear, that’s right next to you.
You see, while you humans have your stronger brains that invent motorcycles and computers and dog dishes, our weaker brains leave us able to notice some stuff you don’t. But we don’t know those Big Answers any better than you do; we just know there’s… stuff around!
So what does my experience tell me, to help with those questions? Here’s the best I can offer. Not that it’s any more provable than anything you’ve heard anywhere else. But it is what my doggy brain is able to believe:
– We animals live in a world where Life and Death are part of our normal existence, more than what most humans experience these days. We spend lots of time hunting, and know that, whether it’s a squirrel or a flea, we’re trying to kill it. Yes, as sweet and loving as we are, that’s what we’re knowingly doing. And we dogs live every moment, knowing we could be similarly ended. Whether it’s a Pekinese or Chihuahua who lives with giant humans who could, with one mistake, step on us and end us forever; or a Pit Bull who is always being picked on by other dogs who want to get rid of us in order to have the top status in the neighborhood; or a working dog who protects people from bad guys who might shoot us at any time – we are always aware of our fragility. And meanwhile, we’re always sniffing, eating, and rolling in dead things we find! We understand Death very well. And what we understand is that Death is a part of Life. Like fun and grief and love – no one lives without experiencing all of them. It’s hard to make sense of (just like those other three), but it’s no bigger.
– I can’t tell you whether there’s a Heaven, or a Hell, or a Purgatory. I can’t tell you whether we’re reincarnated, or whether we even keep any consciousness at all after this body stops working. But I’ve seen a lot – I’ve seen the souls of humans and dogs; I’ve felt love and support, and some not-so-nice emotions, from individual energies that don’t have physical bodies; and I’ve felt the presence of friends after they’ve passed away. So I don’t know how it’ll be, or when or where, but there’s something. And so, if I get to have some contact with Stella after she leaves this damaged body behind, I won’t be surprised at all. (Though I’ll be very, very thrilled!)
– And as far as that question about the meaning of life goes… I don’t have the faintest idea. Are we part of a great plan, or are we here to learn things for our next lives, or are we here to test our souls’ goodness for an upcoming judgment? If a dog could shrug its shoulders, I’d be shrugging my forelegs right off! I just really don’t know.
But I also don’t care.
Because I’m here with Stella today. And I’m looking at her, as she lies on the cool ground, and chooses to spend some of her final time just gazing around at her back yard, soaking up all the joyous time she’s spent here. I know how much she’s loved her family and friends, and all the goodness she’s bestowed on them. I know that, when her humans have had terrible losses and disappointments, Stella was proud to be the one to make those times bearable. I know what it meant to her to be the first one to lick their two babies. And I know what it’s been like for me to play with her, discovering the secrets our world offered.
With all that, how can anyone wonder if life has meaning? Stella’s life’s meaning has been all of that! It’s been every moment she’s lived, every feeling she’s felt, every interaction she’s ever had with anyone… Her life is the meaning of her life!
If there’s more meaning that I don’t know about, that’s great. But the life she has, and that we all have, is perfectly profound and grand enough for me to stand back open-mouthed in humble awe.
So that’s about all I know. But I will add: I do like to believe in something else. Call it Heaven if you like, but I like to think that Stella and I will meet again. And it’ll be in a beautiful place, a lot like here, but without any of this world’s problems. And when we meet, we’ll both be perfect – no scars, no pains, no #@*&%! cancer, nothing to keep us from running and jumping and playing in total freedom and love. And our humans will be there too, equally healthy and happy, and free of all confusion and hurt and jealousies and fears. That’s what I like to think is coming, for all of us.
So as I kiss my dear friend goodbye today, I’ll whimper, knowing I’ll miss her. But I also say, with all my hope and love…
See you later, Stella.