When we think about love stories, the first thing that comes to mind is the bond between two , people – most of the world’s best love stories have been about the love between a man and a woman. But, love comes in many forms, and does not restrict itself to the romantic attraction between those of the human species.
I’d like to tell you about a love story that might seem a bit unusual, but is no less profound for that. The ancient Greeks had many definitions for love; agape, meaning a deep affection or ‘true’ love, to distinguish it from eros, meaning a sensual desire or longing, philia, denoting a dispassionate affection, such as that we have for friends or family, and storge, which meant ‘affection,’ such as that of parents for children. Somewhere between philia and storge, I believe, is the bond that develops between two beings of different species, such as the love of a person and his or her dog.
I had such a relationship; one that was recently broken by death; an event which made me ponder the meaning of love. My rambunctious Pekinese, who I named Chong, after the counterculture comedian I so liked to watch, was with my family for nine years. We acquired her when she was just six months old, and during the months of housebreaking her, a bond developed that is difficult to describe. She wasn’t around other animals until she was two, so I think she had an identity problem – she didn’t know she was a dog. She couldn’t talk – everyone knows dogs can’t talk – but, she could communicate clearly; and I swear she had a sense of emotions and communication that bordered on ESP sometimes. She knew when I was sad, angry, or happy, and responded appropriately without any overt action on my part. When I was upset, she’d hop up on the sofa next to me and lay her head on my thigh, looking up at me with those bug-eyes of hers as if to say, what’s the problem? Life’s good, so let’s just enjoy it. When my wife was upset at her for the occasional mistake in the living room when we forgot to take her out in time; before the wife could say anything, she’d make a beeline for wherever I was and cower under my chair. Her expression at those times was, “I made a mistake, and I’m terribly sorry, but I couldn’t help it; I had to go. Please protect me.”
Whenever the wife was sad, Chong would go over and lean against her leg; just standing there letting the warmth of her little body flow through.
We had a morning routine that was unvarying. If I wasn’t out of bed by six a.m. she’d stand near the head of the bed and make little rumbling noises until I got up. Then, I’d let her out to do her business while I showered, dressed and fixed my breakfast. Done with her own toilet, she’d post herself near the table and just stare at me, waiting for me to share a piece of toast or bacon. If I delayed too long, she’d get up and put her paws on my knee; just positioned there staring at me as if to ask, “Why are you being so stingy this morning?” When I’d finished my breakfast and poured my second cup of coffee, she knew the meal was over. She’d take off to play with one of her toys. When it was time for me to go to work, she’d be waiting at the door. Most of the time, she’d just sit there staring at me, but on occasion, she’d want to go outside and hop into the back seat of my car. She’d sniff around for a while, then hop out and go back inside the house – “Okay, she seemed to be saying; I’m satisfied it’s safe for you.”
Chong was also pretty good at knowing what I was up to. It never bothered her when I left the house with a brief case, but whenever she saw me heading for the door with a suitcase, she’d cry and whine like a two-year old kid. If I was only gone for a few days, a frequent occurrence in my line of work, she’d welcome me back with cavorting and jumping around; but, if I was gone for more than a week, she’d snub me for the first hour of my return.
Most people teach their dogs to play ‘fetch,’ but Chong taught me. She had a favorite stuffed toy that she’d bring near me and put on the floor, covering it with her paws. She’d then wait for me to try and grab it before she could snatch it up in her jaws and run off with it. I won about half the time; but, when I didn’t she’d run a few feet and put it down again. “Come on, lazy; you can do it.”
Her passing was quick. On Friday, she was doing her usual of sitting next to me on the sofa while I watched the latest episode of The Mentalist, and then on Saturday, she starting vomiting and refusing to eat. We took her to the vet, who said he suspected liver failure. By now, she could hardly move. She just lay splayed on the floor, barely able to lift her head, staring at me with those sad eyes. By Monday, she was gone; quietly she just slipped away. I don’t know if she suffered any pain; she didn’t seem to; just confusion at not being able to run and play. There was a sad resignation in those big brown eyes. It was like she knew what was happening, and was sad that she couldn’t explain it to me. She didn’t whimper or moan, just lay there in silence.
She might not have felt pain, but watching her slip away, I felt a stabbing sensation in my heart, similar to what I felt watching my mother die from a stroke ten years ago. I felt the same sense of loss; someone who has had a place in your heart is no longer there, and there’s a feeling of emptiness that physically hurts. You’re torn between relief that they’re no longer suffering, guilt that you could do nothing to save them, and sadness, knowing that they’re no longer around to share those quiet moments with you.
That’s a kind of love that doesn’t really have a name; but, it’s as much love as that feeling you have for a wife or sweetheart; it’s a little like the love you have for your children, but also different in so many ways. A mutual sharing of unconditional loyalty and friendship that exists for no monetary, social, or psychological gain; it just comes into being and exists for its own sake.
When it is gone, there is sadness; but, you’re a better person for it having existed. From this kind of love, you learn compassion; you learn understanding without the need of words; you learn to see the world through a completely alien pair of eyes. You learn from this bond to look outside yourself, and be one with the universe.
Causes Charles Ray Supports
The Nature Conservancy
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial