|Today we'd like to share a writing with you by one of our favorite authors: Elisabeth Elliot. This piece is beautifully written and describes her thoughts on a dog's 'mortality'. We hope it touches your heart as it has ours. |
Little Black Dog by Elisabeth Elliot
It is a late October morning of glorious sunshine in New Hampshire and I sit in an antique rocking chair by the window of an old house which was once a barn. The gray rocks on Mount Lafayette's broad summit are dusted with snow, and the sky is as blue as a sky can be. All that is still green today is the evergreens. Between them are the black line drawings of the thin leafless maples, wild cherries, aspens and birches. The feathery tamaracks are dark gold. Little yellow apples hang on one of the gnarled old trees of the orchard. I keep hoping a deer will come for them.
My friend Miriam and I drove up yesterday from Boston for a few days of quiet at my brother's place. Both of us brought a load of desk work. No one else is here except Daisy, Miriam's new friend, a little white Pekingese. (Her old friend, Pity Sing, died a few weeks ago.)
MacDuff, my six-year-old Scottish terrier, is not here this time either. We went for a short climb yesterday afternoon, up a rocky wooded trail that he used to love. He would race after the chattering chipmunks, bound up the steep granite slabs, and wait, panting, at the top for us to catch up. I missed him yesterday on that trail. I miss him today when I look out of the window.
MacDuff died of cancer last week. I knew he was sick during the summer when his routines changed. He sat in the middle of the back yard one morning, instead of in his usual place by the fence, looking bewildered instead of in charge. One rainy day he was not on his chair in the screened porch, but I found him lying in a hollow place under a bush. He no longer leaped for his Milk-Bone at the breakfast table. But he kept his ears and tail up, and thus kept my hopes up.
The vet said he had an infection and gave us pills. MacDuff got very cagey at detecting where those pills had been hidden in his food, so I had to try ever sneakier methods of getting them into him. They worked fine. He was well again--for a while faithfully putting in his self-appointed barking time each day, letting neighbor dogs know who was in charge, and keeping off trespassers, some of whom must have been demons since none of us humans could see them.
But I saw that he was losing weight. I could feel the shoulder blades and spine through his heavy, ragged coat. I bought new kinds of dog food, special hamburger, yogurt. He was apologetic when he couldn't eat it, his eyes limpid with a plea for understanding, his stiff brush-tail quivering to explain.
"Little Duffer, little black dog--could you try this?" I would ask, offering some tidbit that would surely be irresistible. He would lift his black nose, take it slowly and delicately in his teeth, hold it for a moment hoping I would look away, and then place it on the floor as tactfully as he could. He did not want to disappoint me.
His suffering was a hard thing to watch. He was alone in it, as all creatures, human or animal, are alone in their pain. "The toad beneath the harrow knows exactly where each sharp tooth goes." There is no qualitative or quantitative measurement for pain. It is simply there sharp or dull, shooting or stabbing, bearable or excruciating, local or general, it is unexplained, uninvited, unavoidable. It takes command. It is all-encompassing, implacable, exigent. But of course I am speaking only of what I know of pain. How was it for MacDuff?
He expected no special treatment. He did not pity himself. He took for granted that he would be able to go on about his accustomed terrier business and when he found that it was somehow not working well, he made his own adjustments as unobtrusively as he could. It was still the supreme object of his life to see that I was happy. I think he lay under the bush in the rain not in order to wallow in solitary self-pity, but in order that I might not see him in trouble. He liked to please me. He delighted to do my will.
Is animal suffering different from human suffering? I hope so. Animals surely must not suffer the agonies of anxiety which accompany much human pain. "How shall I carry out my duties? What am I to do if this doesn't clear up quickly? Can I bear it if it gets worse?" The element of time is not a philosophical torment to them. They live as we have to be told to live--one day at a time, trustfully. I don't know whether it is accurate to say that "faith" is required of them, but if it is, they fulfill the requirement perfectly. They look to God, the Psalmist tells us, for provision for their needs. They are watched over and cared for by a kind Father. Not the least sparrow falls without his notice. Surely MacDuff was of more value than many sparrows!
I watched him try to lie down on his side, but something obstructed his breathing. When he was asleep he would begin to pant and would waken to change his position, sometimes with little muffled groans. This fellow-creature, I thought, formed by the Hand that formed me, suffers for my sin--for I am of the race of men who brought evil into the world, and without evil there could be no pain, no death. A Scotty would not have had cancer.
His wonderful face bearded, with tufts of eyebrows springing and black eyes shining--had reminded me of George MacDonald's belief that dogs always behold the face of the Father. MacDuff knew things--what did he know? What were the mysteries he saw--too deep or too high or too pure for me to be entrusted with yet? I think they helped him endure the pain. He was not bewildered, of course, by the questions that needle my mind--the origin of evil, God's permission of an animal's or a child's suffering. He was a dog, and to ponder such questions was not required of him. What was required of him he did, in an authentically, thoroughly dog-like style.
I will not weep more for him. I will be thankful for such a gift of grace. He was, I am sure, "assigned" to me. In the sorrow of my late husband's illness, when life seemed a desolate wasteland, MacDuff was there. Jesus, the Bible tells us, during his temptation in the wilderness, was "with the wild beasts." I used to think of that phrase as descriptive of one of the elements of his dereliction, but it may be that the wild beasts, like the angels, ministered to him. Is it mere sentimentality to believe that? Is it too much to say that Duffer "ministered" to me? He did. He was my little wild beast in that wilderness.
The Bible does not speak specifically of the destiny of animals but there is a promise in the Letter to the Ephesians which surely must include them, "Everything that exists in heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Christ" (Eph. 1:10 Phillips).
Paul expresses his hope in the eighth chapter of Romans (verse 21 Phillips) "that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!"
Copyright 1979, by Elisabeth Elliot
all rights reserved.