It’s an awful and unwanted grief but this year we’re giving up our dog for Lent.
We hope not to make it a practice. Sitka is a seventeen or eighteen-year-old rescue Husky who is on her last legs, almost literally. She walks into things, stumbles on the ice, cries a lot because she confuses night and day, and sleeps most of the time.
My husband and I both know “putting her down” is the merciful thing to do but it’s still been something we’ve been procrastinating: something about calling our vet for the appointment. We’ve tried to postpone the inevitable and we’ve put her on Prozac, but we know that’s more for us than for her, although we try and convince ourselves differently. I wish my cattle-rancher/cowboy granddaddy were around. He’d just take her out back and be done with it. But not me. The mere weight of determining the fate of another life is heartbreaking, and not in that good way.
At my most maudlin with the old girl, I tell myself sentimental stories about heaven, things I don’t even buy theologically, although I take great courage and comfort in Martin Luther being a dog lover. Luther wrote quite a bit about dogs, even their salvation: “Be thou comforted, little dog; thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.” One day, I asked Sheldon Tostengard, my preaching mentor, about dogs and whether they wind up in heaven and in his witty way, he paused and said, “Good dogs do.” Well, thankfully, Sitka is a good dog so the way I figure it, the bases are all covered.
This is not to say that a dog’s death is like a human being’s death. There really is no comparison, although I do trust that all creation is redeemed in Christ’s death and resurrection, not just human life. But more, a dog’s life, because of its brevity, reminds us of our own mortality. It reminds us that we are bound not only by our sin, shortcomings, and fleeting good works, but also by death. We are time-bound creatures and no anti-aging company has figured out a way around this. And each death, reminds us of other deaths, and our own.
This column is not about a dog. Limpy and demented Sitka is simply holding up a mirror that reflects we are not more than dust and each passing season reminds us that we, and all we love, will end. It reminds us that we are in the throes of Lenten purple, with all its acknowledgments of our sorrows and woes. Try as I might, I want to believe I have the illusion of control, but the reality is, no matter how comfortable I try to make my poor, old dog, the outcome doesn’t change.
Yet, (and there is always a “yet” with Christ, as is his habit). Yet. Although the color of the day is purple, it is the Easter white that wins the day. Though we march, our heads down, toward Lent and ultimately headlong into silent despair of Good Friday, we know that something historical happened, something framed by time, but something that went far beyond it.
For Christ is leading this little, foolish parade and he is redeeming along the way. In fact, all creation, everything has already been redeemed and we simply wait. Even now, if we take our eyes off our own selves for a bit, we see Christ’s graces working daily in our life. Christ loves this world. He, who was there at creation, deems it good beyond our expectations and for all eternity. And, then, he remains loving us, and liking us, into new life, reminding us that in all things, death is not the final word. It is Christ’s first word, his first promise, and also his last.