Oh, what heroes live on in the ether!
Insofar as dogs don’t go to heaven, a directive which obviously thrives well above my pay grade, I have never been one to perpetuate any specific ideas about the supernatural or the probability of an afterlife. As with my relationships with the bitches (and there have been many), a little mystery goes a long way, if you know what I mean (and I think you do). So, for those out there who’ve been waiting anxiously for this little missive, wagging your tails enthusiastically at the postman for the past several weeks and wiling away your afternoons reading my letters from previous years (just to assuage the mounting anticipation), here’s a tip: while this letter may divine certain truths for all readers, those with preconceived notions about heaven and hell would do well to remember that I died a couple of years ago, and yet you digest my every utterance with gleeful and quite palpable reverence, thanks, in large part, to my faithful amanuensis. Go ahead and fetch that dictionary. We’ll wait.
Good girl. Now, sit. Stay. Good girl. Moving on.
Since our relationship remains so contemporaneous, as opposed to relying on ancient scrolls and second-hand accounts of He said – he said, I can retrieve a clear dog’s-eye view of the great migration we all face, human and dog alike, from life into death, with a short side trip into old age if we’re lucky. And I was. Now, before you go calling me a morbid mastiff or accusing me of trying to poo-poo-poodle the whole idea of heaven (why does it always devolve into bodily functions when we talk?), let me remind you that heaven and hell both enjoy vibrant presences in my vernacular, and I’m certain they enjoy broad reception among dogs everywhere. We in the canine world, however, have a bone to pick with humans who limit heaven’s connotations to celestial concerns. Just like the house-breaking process, you’ll appreciate it more when I put it on the paper.
Heaven is watching as two young ladies I raised from pups grow into adulthood and get a whiff of all the wonders that await them. Hell is not being there to comfort them when hormones ravage their bodies and emotions, having to rely instead on my amanuensis (you should have a good handle on that term by now) to intercede and offer what little wisdom and perspective he can muster, clumsy oaf that he can be. Thankfully, the one with the lipstick continues to prevail in the feminine theater of the larger war on adolescence. Her largely calm demeanor speaks volumes to my earthly angels as the old and only man of the house, never one for conflict, retreats hastily to his office above the garage.
Heaven is witnessing, from an imagined and intangible distance, the emergence of an artist’s soul through the lens of a camera. Heaven is assuming an ethereal shape and wafting among the patrons of gallery exhibitions of her work as the one with the lipstick describes the magic of capturing light and time for others to experience. Hell is not being able to follow her from room to room, as my former physical manifestation allowed, as protector and avid listener, as she gathered her courage and confidence as an artist and mother, woman and wife. From where I sit, though (wherever that is), she is evolving into the very picture of feminine divinity. That, too, is heavenly.
So what is the takeaway from these vignettes? What can you glean from a dead dog’s perspective on the human condition? And how can you make these insights actionable in your daily life? All good questions and you’ve proven yourself wise beyond your years in asking them. To be safe, if you didn’t actually ask them, go back now and read the questions aloud, as if you were asking them. Go ahead. We’ll wait. Good boy.
First, let me discourage you from publicly attributing any of your new, life-changing perspectives to a holiday letter written by a dead dog. I think the potential complications are obvious. Without question, you should share your insights with friends and family, and you can even show them this little epistle in support of your newfound emotional and interpersonal freedoms. But get to know the stranger in the elevator before you witness to him about the blissful intuitions of a once and former golden retriever.
Second, let me assure you that the holiday season is the perfect time for self-discovery. Imagine, in a very real sense, that the birth of a savior and the renewal that birth inspires is, for you, both compelling and autobiographical. Imagine celebrating each and every year the renaissance of the you that you always thought you could be. And, at the risk of sounding too much like John Lennon (he’s sitting right here with a smile on his face — thinks a philosophical dog is far out), imagine forgiving all of your own weaknesses and transgressions and human blunders and starting the year off with a sincere desire to do better and be stronger, to love unconditionally and forgive with abandon, to squeeze every drop out of every day and face the sunset with no regrets. That’s a good daily practice for the larger, metaphorical sunset awaiting all of you.
Third (because there’s rhetorical strength in threes), let me impress upon you the power of a single paw, the weight of a single idea, and the strength of a single act of compassion. I spent 14 years in my earthly golden robes, and I remember giving and receiving the gift of connection, experiencing the expulsion of those demons of doubt and despair, fears and worries cast out by the presence of another thoughtful soul and the assurance that everything was going to be okay. That’s what heroes do. They take the actions and argue the positions and write the words that move the human ball forward, and for them we are grateful. So recognize and forgive your own human frailties and do the things, big and small, that make the lives of those around you better. The result has proven, time and again, to be heavenly.
Returning to my original thought: what of those heroes that live on with me, here in the ether? We have poets and soldiers, mayors and mothers, sons and daughters. We have fathers, long dead, who speak to you daily in the eyes and wit of your children. These heroes live on not because they’ve achieved an afterlife separate from those of you awaiting a glorious reunion. Your heroes remain in residence here because they remain in residence there, with you, in your hearts and memories, in your words and actions that preserve the evidence that we were once among you, trying to forgive our own weaknesses and working to move the human ball forward. And so it will be with you. Now be a good human and live a life story worth telling. We’ll leave the light on for you.