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Nowhere and Everywhere
Submitted by Gordon Peerman D.Min on May 25, 2012 - 10:44am
This week our fifteen year old Jack Russell terrier, Morgan, gave up the ghost. Morgan was not only our much beloved family dog; she was also my co-therapist in my psychotherapy practice. When she was just a young and wild three year old, she had been hit by a car. Because it’s pretty hard to kill a Jack Russell, she lived to tell the tale, thanks to the skillful veterinarian who treated her collapsed lung right after the accident. Nonetheless, in the weeks following this early brush with death, we noticed that she had become a markedly calmer dog. As my son Alex, nine years old at the time, observed, “Dad, I think the accident improved Morgan’s personality!”
Indeed, it had. She became the calmest Jack Russell anyone had ever seen. People would ask, “How’d you get a Jack Russell this calm?” She began to come to work with me, listening to (or sleeping through) my psychotherapy clients. At the beginning of the session she’d always get up to greet my clients as they came through the door, and their interactions with her were always the opening communication of the session, full of information about a client’s mood and way of being in the present moment. I could always get a quick read on a new client by observing how he or she related to Morgan. I loved introducing her as my co-therapist. She helped new folks settle in.
Morgan loved to come to work. She would happily trot up the drive to my office in back of the house each morning, ready to assume her role as therapy dog. Though she had no formal training, she was a natural. After a long life of listening, she had heard it all; and she was till the end a comforting presence, both to me and to my clients. In the last months of her life I had to carry her up the steps to the office, and though she now mostly slept through the sessions, something about her being there was calming and reassuring for those of us in the room with her.
On the last day of her life, she could no longer stand. She had stopped eating several days before, and that morning had no interest in drinking water. But taking her up to the office seemed the right thing to do. She saw three final clients that morning, then passed quietly over to the other side.
I remember several years ago watching a PBS special on how children respond to losing a parent. The show was hosted by Katie Couric, and in a real flash of brilliance, by the Sesame Street character Elmo. One of the children interviewed was a young teenaged girl, who had lost her mother to breast cancer. As a part of her mourning, she’d been encouraged to write a letter to her mother. In the letter she said to her mother, “Mom, it seems like you’re nowhere ... and everywhere ... at the same time.”
This has been my experience as well with Morgan’s passing. In the afternoon following her death I took to the woods, walking a path she’d taken with me countless times. The afternoon light was slanting through the trees, and there was a magical peacefulness and presence in that light. Morgan was no longer running at my side ... and yet she was everywhere, in every step along the way. In the days following her death, I find myself moving to do something I’ve habitually done with or for her, and realizing, “Oh, she’s not here.” Yet paradoxically, she’s everywhere.
There’s a wonderful story Jack Kornfield tells in A Path With Heart. A woman named Jean, who had been involved in a number of spiritual communities, lost her husband to suicide. Following his death a close friend in the Tibetan community came and excitedly told Jean he’d had a vision of her husband entering the bardo of light of the Western Realm with the Bodhisattva Amitabha. Jean was greatly comforted by this. Several days later, she came across a friend from the local Christian mystical community where she’d also practiced. This friend said, “I’ve seen him. He’s surrounded by white light in the heaven of ascended masters.” Jean was confused by this comment, but even more so when an old and respected Sufi teacher told her, “Your husband is fine. He has already entered a womb and will take birth in a female body to parents living in the Washington, D.C., area.”
Trying to sort all this out, she came to see Jack. He asked her to consider carefully what she actually knew for herself. If she put aside all the Tibetan, Christian, and Sufi teachings, and looked in her own being and heart, what did she already know? If she put away all the maps of past and future lives, all her philosophies and beliefs, what did she know for certain, so that even if Jesus and the Buddha were to sit with her in the same room and say, “No, it’s not,” she could look them straight in the eye and say, “Yes, it is.”
After some time in quiet, she said, “I know that everything changes and not much more than that. Everything that is born dies, everything in life is in the process of change.” Jack asked her if perhaps that wasn’t enough -- could she live her life from that simple truth, not holding on to what inevitably must be let go. (A Path With Heart, 158-159)
What I know for certain is the great gratitude I feel for Morgan and for her presence with us. She came into our life at the time of my son’s first grade pet show, before which he had said to me, “Dad, I can’t be pet-less for the pet show!” This was a time of upheaval in our family, and in a way we could not have anticipated, Morgan was a bridge to an uncertain but more hopeful future. Whatever the disagreements and difficulties in our family, we could all agree we loved this little Jack Russell puppy. And she loved us all, equally and whole heartedly.
So today, beyond any Christian or Buddhist take on what happens after this form passes away, what I know for certain is that Morgan is nowhere and she’s everywhere, and I feel such gratitude for her.