Here's a Buddhist parable about the inevitability of death. A woman, angry that her son had died, demanded that the Buddha restore him to life. He agreed to do so on the condition that the woman find one person in the village who did not know the sorrow of death. She went on her way, determined to find that person, but weeks later returned after visitng every house, finally understanding no one s untouched by death. This is the one constant, in the world.
There are those few who have been fortunate in their lives not to have yet experienced the loss of a loved one but we all eventually will. The only certainty of life is death. However, some of us experience it more frequently than others,each time just as painful as the last: those of us who choose to live with pets. If we are fortunate, we share their companionship for a full 12 to 14 years....but the physical separation between us inevitable. This is the equivalent of a parent losing a child about five times during a lifetime, such short intervals for such deep sorrow. How ironic is it that our greatest love is so concentrated and stunted. Is it a cruel universal joke or a catalyst for our most important life lessons?
While there is no compensation for multiples losses, In hindsight, once we sustain distance from our emotional pain, we can identify and count the gifts and lessons they bring us in those short lives.
1. Unconditional Love. The one lesson most pet owners agree upon is that our animals teach us to love unconditionally, and along with that, to forgive. They ask little from us but give us enormous rewards with sheer presence, demonstrating the consistency of love.
2. Selflessness. They teach us selflessness. The dog eats before we do. The dog gets vet care before we get medical care. We take days off work to nurse an ailing animal and in some cases our dogs eat better than we do and eat before we do.
3. Accpetance.They teach us to understand and accept impermanence. While this life is temporary, Divine love lasts forever. We learn to extract the greatest parts of ourselves, to joyfully love and willingly. And as painful as the letting go is, the experience opens our hearts to love another four legged arrival....each new four legged guide expands our capacity for love.
4. Release. They make it impossible for us to hold grudges. Yes, we get annoyed if they chew up our shoe or prefer to urinate on the coffee table instead of the shrubbery. Yes we are furious when they swallow part aof a q squeak toy that requires a $3000 surgery, but the emotion is fleeting and reverts very quickly to love and care.
5. Spirituality. They help us understand that we are not alone. They speak to the greater essence of our total being with accompaniment that is way beyond the physical. In fact, despite our trips to the animal shelter or a reputable breeder, we really have not chosen our dogs but they have chosen us. They descend from higher planes to guiide us through ouroften flawed human struggle.
6. Sacrifice. They show us the meaning of sacrifice: because the love we have for them is so pure, they become our first consideration when the end of physical life approaches. If we are learning as it is intended,we face no dilemma of whether to release or clutch our ailing companion. We allow ourselves to part with great love at our own emotional expense, putting love before desire.
7 . Renewal They allow us to heal from all forms of hurt: romantic, loss, anger. By the simple gift of their presence,a paw on our leg, a head on our shoulder, our vibration is raised and our capacity for love is expanded. Each time we bring a new animal into our lives, we are energetically mended.
I wake up every day with four animals, three who paw at me, bringing me closer to them so I can receive their kisses, and one who just chatters away, yelling "Come!" For me, every day starts with these gifts. It makes being human more bearable.