By Brother Luke
It’s Christmas afternoon. Matins and Divine Liturgy are in the past. The community meal is in the future. Right now, before early evening chores in the puppy kennel, I have some time to exhale! The dogs and I have been out for a walk, but now I want to rest in my chair and maybe read, with the soft sounds of Christmas carols and songs in the background. As I settle in, the dogs have to work out their own plan for the siesta. What? Siesta! No chance! Well, maybe a chance for Kahn. He usually comes over to me for a good long petting session; it seems we need to assure each other that we are still around! Once done, then he will settle down for a bit on his therapeutic dog bed. But before long he ambles over to the door and lies down near the crack at the bottom of the door to get a bit of the breeze coming in. After all, my window faces south, and we get the afternoon winter sun right through the windows. The room does heat up.
Meanwhile, Fuller and Iris are playing their games with the Nylabone toys. Even in my small room there is still space for the ubiquitous keep-away game, even if only in short spurts. I hear the growls as one pup tries to steal the bone from the other. But before long Fuller will begin his special game with me. It is the indoor version of kick a stick, so he can chase it and bring it to me (maybe). In this indoor version, he brings one of the Nylabones, well chewed and dripping with saliva, and drops it on the old phone stand I have next to the chair for my books. If I don’t respond, then he picks it up and drops it right on me. Maybe on my legs. If it sticks and I don’t toss it, then he picks it up and keeps dropping it closer and closer to my face. Each time he drops it, he stands back, sits down, and stares at me with his tongue just ever so slightly hanging down out of his mouth. If my eyes are closed, then of course it is to no immediate effect, but in my mind’s eye I know what is going on, since I have seen it so many times before. Often I will toss the bone, hoping it will land on a dog bed and not bang up against the wall, the heat register, or the side of the armoire, or the desk, disturbing the silence in the cloister (about which I will later hear). Sometimes when I toss the bone, Iris will get into the act and steal it from Fuller. Then he looks around, at first puzzled, unsure what has become of HIS bone. But of course, in the world of dog play, who really possesses anything? Isn’t it all up for grabs?
Iris is often content just to chew on her Nylabone toy. She can play or not play. It is usually her prerogative anyway. Or she might come over to me and leap right up onto my lap. I might say NO! but I usually give in first and give her a petting session too. Then I tell her it’s time to get down. Sometimes the two of them, Fuller and Iris, will be next to each other, Iris chewing on a toy or not while Fuller is chewing furiously, with an abandon that makes you think there must be something special hidden inside that he is determined to get out. But no, it’s just the same old bone!
Sometimes I fall asleep in that chair and Fuller will drop the bone on me, wait for a bit, but finally give up and leave it there. When I wake up and move, clunk! The bone will fall to the ground, and he’ll rush over to get it. Eyes bright and expectant, thinking the game is going to begin again. And it may, but often when I wake up I realize I am late for whatever comes next: church, kennels, a meal, whatever. Well, today, it is the kennel, so off I go.
When the time comes for my journey to go from here over to the other world, I hope Fuller is still around. I would want him to come to my funeral and come up to the open casket and drop that Nylabone in. He’ll then sit expectantly, waiting for me to toss it. Well, like so many other times, I won’t toss it, and he’ll have to move it closer to my face! But of course, he won’t know that I’ll be watching, as I usually did, and I’ll be tossing it for him from afar… and he’ll get it, only there will be a bit of a delay. But he’ll get it. He always does!