Almost a dozen years ago,
after living for a year and a half without a dog,
I got a call from my friend Lynelle. She had been hiking on
Mt. Sanitas, run into a woman with two beautiful standard poodles,
asked where she’d gotten them, called the woman in Rock Creek who was
the source, and discovered that she had a litter of puppies ready
to go. I phoned the woman, got directions to her home,
took Sofia out of school, and
I used to believe,
having trained dogs when I was
younger, that I knew something about them.
When we got to Rock Creek, I started performing puppy tests,
in my mannish way, to sort out which was the best dog of the five available.
Sasha was the first dog I tested, the runt of the litter, and it took me all of a minute
or so to dispense with her. I was on to the third or fourth puppy when
Sofia, who was sitting quietly against the fence with Sasha
in her lap, spoke softly. ”Dad, I think we
should take this one.”
“Really?!”, I said.
I’d been decidedly unimpressed with her.
But I always knew my daughter was smarter than me,
so that was the end of it. We paid the woman
and went home with our new dog.
It would be fairer
to say that Sasha raised Sofia than
that I did. She slept with her every night,
napped with her every afternoon,
communed with her
When I lost my daughter
almost six years ago, it was Sasha who carried
me through it. In Tibetan culture dogs are regarded as the
reincarnations of high lamas, and are treated accordingly. Sasha
taught me over the course of a dozen years
that this is fact, not fancy.
To try to recount all else
that Sasha carried me through, taught me,
helped me to bear, suffered or savored or celebrated with me
would require more space than the internet offers. I realized early, as did
most everyone who knew her, that I was in the presence of a realized being —
pure grace, pure patience, pure humor, pure steadfastness. I didn’t
always behave accordingly, though mostly I’d like to think I did,
at least in the way I held her, regarded her, treated her.
But I did always know what I was looking at
when I looked in those eyes.
When she was
diagnosed with melanoma two
years ago, they told me,
She stayed twenty four,
through three surgeries, a bunch of
radiation, an experimental study at CSU.
Throughout she was as present, as loving, as kind
hearted as ever. A couple of months ago I walked over to
Whole Foods with her for a cup of coffee to drink with my NY Times.
We sat down at the tables out front, and a middle-aged woman a couple of
tables away was talking, rather incessantly, with a young couple at a table on the
other side of her. I could tell immediately that she was somewhat needy
and unhappy, describing her husband’s refusal to let her decorate
her home the way she liked, and things like that. The couple
answered her politely, if not enthusiastically,
and left after a few minutes.
At that point she turned to me
and began asking questions. I don’t love a lot of
conversation first thing in the morning, especially of a certain
kind, especially with strangers, and I answered in the best way I could
to get across the message, “I’m going to drink this coffee and quietly enjoy my
paper now.” She understood and quieted down after a few questions, but
I could still feel her very real unhappiness just vibrating away. After
a minute or two, Sasha got up, walked over to her table, and lay
at her feet. She stayed there, soul-doctoring in silence,
until I left a half an hour later.
This was Sasha
on the day she left her body.
One eye had stopped working a few days
earlier, the other was glassy, and she had a hard time
locating us if she was more than a few feet away. But when
you put your face next to hers, or curled your body
around her, she was the same as she ever was.
She curled back into you and
I could never
summarize her and won’t try.
But I understand in my bones what bodhisattva
means because of Sasha, and also how Rumi stopped
searching for Shams because he came to
understand that Shams lived
This is the best friend
and greatest teacher and purest love
I’ve ever known, on the 25th of July of this year,
filling my home in Boulder with God. Ibn al -Ghazali wrote
that “Prayers for the dead are on the same footing as gifts for the living.
The angel goes in to the dead with a tray of light, bearing a cloth of light,
and says, ‘This is a gift for you from your brother so-and-so, from
your relative so-and-so.’ And he delights in it
just as a living man rejoices
in a gift.”
Do me a favor today
and send a tray of light to Sasha.
Trust me when I tell you that she is never not
sending one to each and every
one of you.