Vale Blazie Dog

I have held my grief privately.  It is a disturbing, embarrassing, unseemly grief.  One which feels inappropriate in my current context.  And yet it is so.

I’m heartbroken that my little dog has passed on and I wasn’t able to be there with him and my husband.  Blaze had cancer and had reached a point where he was in significant pain. It was time for us to let him go. But I was unable to make that last trip to the vet with Blaze and Geoff because I am in Kuala Lumpur.

Blaze ate more regularly than many of the people served by the Good Shepherd women with whom I am meeting.  He had better health care.  Blaze had a home.  He was loved and protected from harm.  He was not alone at the end.  Fifteen years is a long life for a dog but a short one for a trafficked child.

What kind of a world is it where poor women and children are bought and sold and treated less favourably than dogs?

What kind of person am I to feel so keenly the loss of one small Jack Russell Terrier in the midst of a meeting concerning trafficked women and children in the Asia-Pacific region?

The whole of creation participates somehow in the mystery of redemption. All suffering is connected and all love is one.

They say that tenacity is the signature strength of terriers, as in ‘dogged determination’, but this sweet-natured little creature taught me so much about trust and hope. He never stopped believing that there would be a scrap from the table for him!  He seemed to know when either Geoff or I were down and offered the simple gift of presence.  Whenever objects were to be moved or digging was to be done, he would be there with his nose in every corner in a kind of doggy solidarity.

The runt of the litter, he had a knack of eliciting care and affection from the most unlikely characters. To children, burly tattooed blokes, too cool for school teenagers and the homeless folk in the designated off-leash park, Blaze offered the opportunity to tenderly express loving kindness. His smallness and vulnerability called forth something within them.

Blaze was a great networker.  He introduced us to the people of his dog friends, to generous picnickers who even peeled grapes for him, and to complete strangers in the street. In fact a mutual friend of ours and his people introduced us to him.

Blaze was facing the death penalty for challenging his father for dominance in his family of origin when we met. (I never asked him if he was in the militant wing of Dogs Against Patriarchy, but he certainly sided with the women)  He had to find a new home and was running out of options. I was terrified of dogs but Blaze jumped on my knee and looked at me. He simply looked at me and I knew we had to take him home.

Blaze opened me to connection with the world of creatures. I hadn’t seen them as companions with us on the journey to knowing, loving and serving God.  They remind us that we too are creatures, held in being by Another.   And the quality of our relationship with them is part of the matrix of right relationships to which we are called.  Our relationships with God, others, and the whole of creations are entwined.

If I could become a ‘dog lady’ so late in life, surely even traffickers can become alive to the dignity of other human beings?  Or perhaps that’s the fruit of Blaze’s gift of persevering hope.

Remembering the dead – or why I hate Halloween

I’m not the only one who gets annoyed at the way in which so many traditional celebrations are now crassly commercialised, or at the general coca colonialisation of Australian culture.  Not that I am a traditionalist, wanting to freeze frame life “back in the day”.  Cultures are dynamic, living things, and in fact I work for social transformation.  I acknowledge that feeling miffed at the paganisation of Christian feasts is somewhat ironic – the way in which ‘Christmas’ is treated in popular culture could be seen as fair return for the Christian appropriation of the pagan spring festival at Easter.  Yet somehow every year I find Halloween increasingly vexatious.

What is the eve of the feast of all hallows – or all saints – about for those subteens dressed as zombies who mug us for unhealthy food?

It’s a strange world in which one is labelled an old grumpy for not acquiescing cheerfully to demands for sugary luxuries from spoilt middle class kids, and, at the same time, is vilified as a bleeding heart (or worse) for suggesting that we could do better in responding to demands for safety and food of the starving and persecuted knocking on our national door.  Lots of trickery and not many treats in that policy arena.

In the Christian liturgical calendar November is a time when we remember the dead and contemplate the mystery of passing on to a new stage of life.  It is about the fullness of life, and our faith that, ultimately, death has no dominion.  It is not about being undead.

In parish churches around the world memorial books will be filled with the names of the dead.  Naturally, we remember relatives and friends whose lives have nurtured ours, helping us to live more fully.  We remember too lives lived more publicly.

On 16 November many will remember with Ignatian communities the University of Central America martyrs – six Jesuit priests teaching at El Salvador’s most prestigious university, and two women co-workers.  Their story continues to inspire and give life to the struggle for justice for the poor and oppressed.  The forces which sought to silence these seekers of truth and justice did not win, even though more than 70,000 El Salvadorians died in that long struggle.

It puzzles and disturbs me that cultures obsessed with youth and beauty also seem to have a crush on vampires and zombies at the moment.  Is it a kind of unconscious acknowledgment that our communities may be living off the blood of others, or that our way of life is more like being undead?

Halloween brings into focus two competing visions: Shaun of the Dead versus the hope of the resurrection.

It may not always look like it, but death shall have no dominion.