By Chris White
I have spent time with a shaman in the Amazon jungle; I’ve meditated and had the opportunity to hug a real saint; I’ve read many writings about true avatars and highly conscious—I call it Big Mind—beings. It has been a quest to understand and somehow transit the traps and pitfalls of the ego—Small Mind—to find truth and peace and, as the wise ones say, stay awake. In December 2007 I reconnected with Pat, who would become my wife in 2009. During that first December reconnection, I also finally met my guru–and the best future dowry one could imagine from Pat. He immediately licked my ear. Let’s not waste time before having fun, he said. His name was Ben, a gorgeous Golden Retriever. He died yesterday in the arms that he had taught to love more. In dog years, he was 91.
Ben spent 13 years with Pat as her faithful companion. They hiked many, many miles through the woods together. They also camped in those same woods—two pods in a small tent. He would accompany her at 4:15 most mornings as she arose to make breakfast for the various assortment of crews she had working with her on the trails. I say ‘most’ mornings because, if it were raining hard, Ben would prefer to stay dry in the tent and hope the weather would change. After years of curling next to Pat, I showed up for a visit and usurped his spot, relegating him to outside the zippered screen door. My first lesson as student: Without judgment, he forgave me in the morning—and I got a bigger tent.
At 90-plus pounds, he was very strong. Of course balls sat upon his own altar of worship. His athletic ability rivaled that of the best MLB player. I imagined him at shortstop, and though he couldn’t throw worth a damn, he would grab the hit and simply beat the runner to the base for the tag. No ball, no matter how far a tennis racket could whack it into the forest, was safe from his retrieval.
Back to his important teachings. He would start the morning deliberately running through my legs on the way to breakfast. It was a gentle zen-like nudge, his way of saying ‘This is going to be a GREAT day, let’s be silly and do not forget to stay above the fray. All will be well.’ In the same vein, he was also a first class crotch-bumper–his way of reminding everyone he met to ‘stay awake.’ When seeing his favorite people after an absence, he exhibited unconditional love by spinning his body at their feet, making happy sounds–no love ever withheld.
Another lesson: Revenge and grudges served him no purpose because they would close his heart, shadow his happiness. He could have calmed Gandhi down. Ben was friends with everyone. Discrimination was not in his vocabulary. Belly rubs were appreciated but not required. Even the three vicious dogs that attacked and wounded him once were forgiven. From his perch on the porch, like a grand marshal, he would watch his friends, especially the deer and elk, parade by and wish them well. The rabbits eating Pat’s lettuce regarded him as kin, but he never liked lettuce anyway. The only would-be friend he was ever rejected by was the skunk, but I believe he still held out hope even after three attempts to win him over. And the wolves, curious lives they led, he imagined, but not-to-be-judged neighbors nevertheless. Oh yes, there was one living thing he did not like: stinkbugs! He once jumped into the front seat of the truck only to sit on a stinkbug and then exited immediately out the window … but who could blame him? He had a sensitive butt.
The biggest lessons he taught me revolved around compassion for others and selflessness. Pat hiked faster than me downhill. Ben would hike with her, then bolt back uphill to walk with me for a spell, then back downhill to be sure things were going well with her—repeat. Another example: not long ago Pat got him a kitty to replace Kai, his close cat-buddy who died. At his advanced age, even Ben was unsure whether he was ready to deal with Zap, this annoying ball of energy—particularly when she would steal his salmon treats from under his nose at mealtime. He could have swatted her into oblivion but instead simply ate faster. After a time he started deliberately leaving the tyke a couple of kibbles in his usually empty bowl. Before much longer the tiny newcomer would pop-up like a periscope from her luxurious burrow in the long fur of his warm underbelly, her kitten head in a mohawk from his attentive licking.
He tried to leave 10 days ago when a tumor burst in his abdomen. Surgery fixed that, and relieved him of his spleen. Yesterday he told us, “Really, I have to go—now.” He was diagnosed with an unusual intestinal blockage and accumulating abdominal fluid. In his wisdom, he wanted a death with dignity. Ben knew his terrible deteriorating hips wouldn’t allow him to pee on favorite trees much longer. The day before he left, our separate arrivals were met with a run to each of us with an especially joyous greeting and barks. The final day, hours before his departure, he summoned the strength in his stout heart to take a short walk with us. He deliberately ran between our legs, first Pat’s, then mine, reminding us to fearlessly stay with Big Mind, assuring us all will be well.
I imagine our broken hearts will be patched by the joyous memories of our friendship and all he taught us. It helps me to believe life-death-life is a cycle and not a one-way street. It helps me to write about what he meant to me. His memory will continue to encourage me to be the best I can be. In the future, when challenges present themselves, I will ask, “What would Ben do?” In this turbulent world, I trust the guidance of my guru and the fullhearted life lived by the prince of peace.
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