Friday, July 30, 2010

Doing a Simple Thing, Finding a Joy Too Fine

"Joy's soul lies in the doing," Cressida says in Shakespeare's play.  The doing of even so simple a thing as taking a walk.

I walked in the desert with Saxon today.  Not far, but far enough to experience a "joy too fine, too subtle-potent, tuned too sharp in sweetness, for the capacity of my ruder powers."  The joy of a favorite thing, shared with a devoted companion of 14 years, four months and 12 days. 

A day made precious, a joy enhanced by the fact that just a few days ago, it appeared that Saxon was about to die.

Mark Epstein explains it in "Thoughts Without a Thinker" (as shared with me by a dear friend, Leslie Fuller):

“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

Saxon The Rottweagle made his compact with us when he was barely eight weeks old: in return for food, shelter and basic canine care, he would reward us with a lifetime of unmitigated love, devotion, companionship, empathy and joy.  A better bargain no man ever made.

Now he has a tumor that threatens his life.  We dare not risk surgery because of his age, his anemia, his weakened condition.  But by the grace of a skilled and compassionate veterinarian, certain medications and dietary practices, and his own fierce will, he remains with us for more precious moments.  How many, we know not, but each one reflects the sun in beautiful patterns.  Each one is precious.

The vocabulary of dog-human relationships is inadequate: "Pet." "Master."  "Adopt."  Inadequate and wrong.

I am not Saxon's "master."  He is not my "pet."

Another good friend understands this.  "That all-important, all-feeling little being," he writes of his dog, Lily.  George Gordon Lord Byron got it, too.  His tribute to "One who possessed beauty without vanity, strength without Insolence, courage without ferocity" would have been petty flattery, he acknowledged, if written about a human, but was a "just tribute" to his dog, Boatswain.  Rudyard Kipling got it, writing about the bittersweet joy of "giving our hearts to a dog to tear."

Someone referred to Saxon as "The Happy Puppy" a long time ago, and he has remained such -- inventor of games, bestower of smiles, lavisher of kisses, giver of glad greetings, sharer of favorite toys.

Teacher of life's lessons.  "Joy's soul lies in the doing."  Listening closely with him today in the desert, I heard, clear as a bell, the glorious music Beethoven wrote to a friend's poem.  The Ode to Joy.


  1. Wow, this one resonates. I thought of Saxon yesterday knowing recently his existence on this plane had grown precarious. I think it was while waiting for Sam, my editor, our greymation, to appear after day surgery to remove a mass that came up suddenly on his shoulder that I thought of your companion.

    Approaching but five years of age this fall and looking to Saxon as examp;le, we were hoping somethng like this was another 8-9 years away; Hopefully Sam's growth will turn out to be benign.

    Thanks for sharing the master's meditation. It means much more to me now than it would have a month ago, or even last week.

    Glad to hear you're still drinking from that Saxon goblet.

  2. Words can not express the deep connection one has with a lover, friend, parent, or animal. I think you could not have put it any better.