The past week has been exhausting — alternately exhilarating and exasperating, but mostly exhausting. This is no surprise, mind you; the past three years have been this way! But just when you thought we were past the screaming mountain lions and the slithering snakes (both human and animal)….
Father Dave the Blessed Beagle, who has been living a life of leisure in the mountains of North Carolina, was attacked by a bear Sunday night. I have no doubt that he brought the attack on himself, sensing the bear’s presence with his over-active nose and no doubt rushing straight at her as she sent her three cubs scurrying to safety in a tall tree; he’s never been one to back down from a fight when an intruder threatened his people. It’s just that, in the past, these intruders have been a bit smaller….humans, possums, raccoons…
According to my friends, the bear was about 500 pounds of brawn to Dave’s 35 pounds of bark, and the vet thinks, based on Dave’s extensive injuries, that the bear picked him up with both paws, bit him, probably shook him, and then tossed him to the ground.
Dave somehow managed to get to his paws and beat a hasty retreat inside, and never once whimpered or whined, so it took a while before our friends realized he was hurt. When they did, they sprung into action, bundling Dave up, and – bear be damned – rushing him to the emergency vet twenty five minutes away at speeds well over the legal limits.
The vet stabilized poor Dave in preparation for extensive surgery. He was torn up pretty bad. By the time I saw him Tuesday evening, Dave had been stitched back together like Frankendog. The vet cut away all of the shredded parts and basically gave him a doggy body lift after determining that — miraculously — although he had sustained major muscle damage, his internal organs were intact and not one single bone was broken.
The vet told us that Dave hadn’t eaten, and would need some coaxing to do so, and need to be carried out to the yard every few hours, and by all means should avoid going up or down stairs or doing any activity other than sleeping for the next week. We put poor Dave in the car, brought him home to our friends’ house, and put a bowl of softened kibble in front of him, hoping to get him to eat just one morsel, just one kibble.
He ate the entire bowl of food in six seconds flat, and then bolted up the stairs and tried to jump on a bed.
After carrying him back downstairs, we put him on his own bed and urged him to sleep, which he did, snoring softly under a blanket (he was cold due to the fact that he is now bald).
Over the last few days, as the swelling has gone done and the bruising has faded, Dave has returned to his normal self…including all of his bad habits, much to our delight. The first time he poked his nose into the trash, we cheered. When he tried to lick the dishes as they went into the dishwasher, we congratulated him. And when he waited for the people in the room to turn their attention elsewhere so that he could jump onto a forbidden couch, we laughed.
Because, as so many things have in the past few years, Dave’s survival feels like a miracle.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The dog lived through a bear attack, and this is no doubt far less about divine intervention than it is about luck, or animal nature, or whatever. I’m not trying to claim any special consideration for my dog — particularly when I have two dear friends who, in the same week, lost their own beloved dogs; pets and people who all deserved equal amounts of good fortune and unfortunately didn’t receive it.
I’m just saying that I feel the need to recognize the fortuitous confluence of events that allowed Dave to live through his bear encounter, and the only thing I can think of to call it is…a miracle.
I had a professor in undergrad whose New Testament course involved systematically dismantling the miracles in the Bible. Walking on water? Low tide. Parting the Reed (it’s not Red; that’s a mistranslation) Sea? Well, it’s actually just a lake, with a sandbar. Loaves and Fishes? An overestimation of the crowd and underestimation of the provisions. To his mind, there was a logical explanation for everything, and not one of them involved any sort of unusual or hard-to-explain circumstance, much less divine action.
That’s a useful exercise, I think, for people who are studying the Bible from a text-critical or historical perspective. You have to remove the divinity in order to see what’s actually written there, what’s actually lies beneath the layers of theology.
But the older I get, and the more often things go sideways, the more difficult it has become for me to see certain things as anything other than miraculous.
So while I might buy the argument that the dog survived because the bear didn’t really need to kill him and he probably wasn’t particularly tasty — which isn’t so much a miracle but rather a serious stroke of luck — the care and concern shown by the friends who have kept Dave and loved him for 9 months seems pretty miraculous to me; miraculous in that their doing so was an act of genuine, unmitigated friendship and good-heartedness and love. Nothing more, nothing less.
And that — true friendship that is a mix of love and support and fidelity and compassion and loyalty and resilience — is a miracle! And if you are lucky enough to have it, if you are lucky enough to experience it in your lifetime, then you should thank your lucky stars and Buddha and Allah and Jesus Christ and the Easter Bunny and the universe and your fourth grade teacher and your local wineseller and Travis Who Knows Things and Animal from the Muppets and anyone else who crosses your path, because in that friendship, you possess something far more valuable than any material thing you could ever buy.
So, thanks for not eating my dog, Anonymous Bear. And thanks for being my friends (You know who you are!)
You make me believe in miracles.