Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

The Shape of Absence January 19, 2016

Filed under: loss,The Art of Living,Writing and Healing — saratbaker @ 9:28 pm
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shindig dog-1

The Shape of Absence
The absence of shape:
No black triangle in the door in the morning, ears pricked, tail thumping
No rectangle of black fur on the morning rug, sighing.
No curled comma at my feet, snorting and dreaming.
Just air. Just air.
The NYT Science Times today says that dog bones have been buried with humans as far back as 14,000 years ago, but that DNA evidence for dogs, some think, goes back as far as 30,000. Are dogs our “friends” or simply clever parasites, adept at begging and obsequious behavior? The article seems to come down on the side of parasites.

For me, I don’t care. I know what I know. In my book, dogs make us more human. They require the best from us—discipline, care, attention, play. They give back what a lot of humans don’t—unconditional loyalty, presence, responsiveness. My dog always knew when I was sad while the rest of the world went on by. I miss her sweet head on my lap now.

“You can take it away, as far as I’m concerned—I’d rather spend the afternoon with a nice dog. I’m not kidding. Dogs have what a lot of poems lack: excitements and responses, a sense of play the ability to impart warmth, elation . . . .”
Howard Moss

Dogs keep us honest. As the poet John Brehm writes in “If Feeling Isn’t In It,”

Dogs can smell
fear and also love with perfect accuracy.
There is no use pretending with them.
Nor do they pretend. If a dog is happy
or sad or nervous or bored or ashamed
or sunk in contemplation, everybody knows it.
They make no secret of themselves.

Now, I know that many people believe that the above poem is anthropomorphism of the highest order. What I might perceive as love is simply, in the words of the immortal skeptic I live with, adaptation and behavior based on the fact that I feed the dog on a regular basis, and so it is attached to me. But what is love if not food, and walks? I know what I know. I know love when I feel its absence.

We are a peculiar species. Smart, able to reconstruct the DNA of animals dead for millennia, but so often unable to see the very thing before our eyes. Every day, when I take my now dog-less walk, I see people of every imaginable shape, walking their dogs of every imaginable size. People who wouldn’t otherwise stop and talk, stop and talk about their dogs. The reclusive single woman, the retired professor, the teenager forced to walk the family dog. They are out of their houses, away from their phones, doing what homo sapiens do best, socializing. Would they be out without their dogs? Doubtful.

Oh, our lives are so much more than our thoughts. Dogs remind us of that.


4 Responses to “The Shape of Absence”

  1. Penny Mclanahan Says:

    Love, to me, is what makes me feel connected beyond myself, whether it is coming in or going out. That is what my Brandi has done for me in this new phase of my life. I am sorry you are having to walk alone but I am guessing that does not stop you from being social with the other walkers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. saratbaker Says:

    Thanks, Penny. I do enjoy other walkers, but am finding it difficult to muster the energy for a walk without my canine companion. But I will keep at it!


  3. lamcal Says:

    Just dropped by and providently as we are going to have our 15 and half year Bailey put to sleep on Sunday. Over the years we went from training walks to two and three mile walks and now we are back to the slow long, but half block or so walks. She is more and more incontinent and the stairs are a struggle. As the day approaches (so family can gather) the walks are more precious than ever. Not one other creature in my life has walked so many years in early morning hot and cold and late afternoon meanderings. We will have our granddogs, but it will never be the same and we will not bring one into our lives at this late stage of the game. Sigh…thanks for having the perfect post waiting for me, of all weeks. It is helpful to know others feel the “whole” of the hole.


  4. saratbaker Says:

    So glad you dropped by. I guess part of it is that the passing our dogs represents the passing of a wonderful period in our lives, as well. I wish you all the best.

    Liked by 1 person

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