Sweet, lionhearted Henry, a beautiful beast of a dog, died yesterday. Only one day before, his mom learned he had an inoperable tumor on his liver and was already very sick, too sick, and she’d have to let him go. I never met Henry, or his mom, but the pictures and stories she’s shared made me love him, and her, anyway.
Every loss like this is folded into my own. I almost can’t separate the sadness of losing my Dexter (or Obi before him) from the loss of every other dog loved and missed by someone, just like me. And certain dogs, for whatever reason and especially if they have cancer, touch that tender raw spot that I carry with me everywhere, always.
That’s what they don’t tell you about a broken heart — it’s not that it gets broken and then fixed, restored to its former state, but rather it gets broken open. Sometimes it feels like I’m walking around in the world not just naked, no clothes on, but with all my skin peeled off, my chest cracked open, utterly vulnerable and wounded, nothing to hide behind, no armor or mask or shield, no protection.
Oddly enough, this is an experience I chose. This is my path. You can armor up and numb out, run away or reject this way of living. It’s entirely possible through all sorts of means to disconnect from reality, to opt out. And yet, two years ago I made a distinct, conscious choice otherwise.
Committing to benefit others is traditionally called the path of the bodhisattva…the path of the spiritual warrior whose weapons are gentleness, clarity of mind, and an open heart. The Tibetan word for warrior…means “the one who cultivates bravery.” As warriors in training, we cultivate the courage and flexibility to live with uncertainty–with the shaky, tender feeling of anxiety, of nothing to hold on to–and to dedicate our lives to making ourselves available to every person, in every situation. ~Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change
This is my path, to ease suffering, in myself and the world. There are days like today when I am feeling sad and a little stuck that I wonder if I can really do this, and yet when I give any attention to contemplating the matter, I understand that for me there really is no other way.