Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tears for a Loving Dog in a World Gone Mad

The last few days have been very difficult - around the world and within the smaller world of my family and my life. Sometimes, you want to just curl up and cry and that's what I've been doing on and off for the last 48 hours or so.

World-wide, as Christians prepare to celebrate Christmas and a season that is supposed to represent good will towards man, peace on earth, etc., the world sometimes feels like it is falling apart. Twelve people were murdered in Berlin; the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated by an "Allahu-akbar" screaming terrorist. Shots were fired at an Israeli bus, three people were shot in a mosque in Switzerland. In my smaller world. we know that one Israeli was seriously wounded in the Berlin attack and another is missing, the family desperately hoping she is still alive and among the wounded. They know without doubt that she was there - it is her husband who lies in the hospital in critical condition.

In the Ukraine, anti-Semites entered the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslev, a place where tens of thousands of Jews go every year to pay their respects, screamed hateful words and threw a pig's head covered in red paint (presumably to symbolize blood). Such hate, such anger, such violence. Where is the love, the light of the season that so many look for around this time of year?

And on a personal front, in addition to an ailing father (please pray for Moshe ben Malka, may he be granted a speedy recovery and live long and healthy until 120 with my much loved mother, Sara bat Mina Leah, beside him in health), our family pet needed to be put to sleep. I have to admit, in all the years that I've loved writing, my greatest limitation has never been what, it has always been when...I never had enough time to stop and take the words in my brain and place them first on paper, and now on the computer.

For the last day or so, for the first time, I knew it was too much. I couldn't write...and that caused me even more pain. How do I write of my worries for my father and how do I say goodbye to Simba? Do I ignore the world, people starving and dying in Aleppo while once again the world focuses on meaningless gestures like the lights on the Eiffel Tower, hashtags on Twitter? Do I put worry for my father to the side for a few minutes and pay my respects to Simba? How silly would it be to focus on a dog when the world is on fire?

Well, anyone who has loved a dog or a cat or pretty much any pet understands that they are never "just" a dog, a cat, whatever. They become part of our lives. I am having such trouble sitting in my living room where Simba spent most of his time. I keep expecting to turn around and see him there. I move the chair and worry that I woke him up; I go to shut the bathroom light, leaving on the sink area light only to realize his food is gone and the light is no longer needed.

I drive my family crazy with how much I write. How is it possible not to write now? But for the last two days, it hasn't been happening and it isn't time that stops me. Last night, I had to go out to a play with hundreds of Israelis from all over the world to see "Sephardic Gardens." I've had the ticket for weeks, I even helped the city/Ministry of Interior sell dozens of tickets. I had an envelope filled with tickets. I had to go. Literally.

Sephardic Gardens is a wonderful musical featured non-stop in Tel Aviv's HaBima Theater for the last 18 or 19 years...non-stop and the actors put their hearts and souls into the play they offered to a full house here in our new Culture Center in Maale Adumim. And the audience roared with laughter and cheers.

And what is so very typical, the actors improvised, slipping the name of our city, Maale Adumim, into the words of the play. The sub-titles stumbled; the audience broke into cheers. I don't know what was to have been said, but when one character (a young man seeking a blessing and advice) asked a question and was answered by the second character (a learned rabbi), the young man turned and asked the rabbi how he know this and the actor ad-libbed, "because I've been doing this show for 19 years!"

I laughed until I cried. I smiled. I cheered. I clapped and was ready to rise to my feet when the lead character motioned that he wanted the audience to stop clapping at the end and then turned and said that the cast was proud to come, "ESPECIALLY to Maale Adumim!"

And then I came home, parked the car, and remembered. Simba wouldn't be here when I open the door. I sat down and thought it was time to write about Simba, to write a goodbye to our gentle friend.

The world is exploding...what will I write? I thought of the essence of what Simba brought to our family and if beyond my personal pain, I could find a greater message in his life and essentially the short lives that most pets share with their human family.
Simba as a puppy (front) and Sushi already gray

Simba came to us when he was a few months old, when we were still mourning Sheba, our first real pet besides some fish and a bird. We still had Sushi, a delightful and much loved dachshund that was abandoned and left to die.

When we lost Sheba, losing Sushi was on our minds and it seemed that getting Simba would be both our consolation for Sheba and help us into the future. We hoped he would help us keep Sushi with us longer.

I guess it worked because Sushi lived until she was almost 18 years old and on winter days, they often cuddled together.

In a bed that was barely big enough for one large dog, Simba always yielded to this tiny dachshund, keeping her warm and safe and sometimes making us laugh. What we should learn from how Simba treated Sushi is kindness, caring for others even, sometimes, at your own expense.
Fully grown Simba, a more frail Sushi

Sheba taught my children not to be afraid of dogs. From the day Simba came to us, I can tell you that he never knew hunger or abuse. He welcomed people to our homes and entertained our neighborhood with his ability to stand on high walls and watch from above. He learned how to open doors to let himself out and back in, but never how to close them. He seemed to know that it was Friday and that soup was coming to him.

Each day, every day, coming home to Simba meant being welcomed with exuberance and love. I don't remember a time in the last 8 or so years, that Simba didn't show his joy in having us home. At night, I listen for him; coming up the steps I miss his barking. For years as I worked on my dining room table, I could hear him snoring behind me. I keep looking into the corner and am surprised anew that he isn't there.

Simba had a simple life, though not a particularly long one. His days consisted of food, sleep, walks around the neighborhood, and endless attempts to get our attention. If we met his eyes, if we petted him, he made it clear that all he wanted was more.

He never insisted, but if you just put your hand to his head and then stopped, he would gently remind you that he wanted more, more attention, more love and, since you started it, you often felt the need to continue.

Simba simply wanted our love. I look at the pictures and I remember - he always looked at you as if he could see right into you.

Losing a beloved pet is never easy. You are never really ready for the moment when you know the suffering has to end. When we lost Sushi, it wasn't nearly this bad. Not because we didn't love her as much but because hers was a full life - 18 years! And she died in her bed, in her sleep after a long life filled with love. You can't really ask for more.

If Sushi was the old one, Simba was the puppy, the new one. It took me a long time to realize that he had gone gray and when he cried as he got up in the last few days, I realized it was probably arthritis. Puppy no longer. Our time with Simba went so fast.

Sheba and Sushi and Simba taught my children to love unconditionally and without expecting anything more than love in return. They taught them responsibility. I know the time will come when I think of him without crying.

And I know that my children will carry his memory with them forever.

So thank you, Simba. Thank you for reminding us every day that the most wonderful thing of all is simply being a part of a family, of giving love and receiving it.

I know on a scale of a world plagued with terrorism, the death of one dog is meaningless. I know that there are people suffering much greater losses than that of a family pet having to be put to sleep.

For two days, I've felt bad that I'm so sad and then somewhere along the way, I started to think that what makes us human is our ability to love. Only humans love conditionally - you love people who are close to you, people who do good things for you. And that's the difference, given a chance, most dogs will offer love unconditionally. That's what Simba did. That was his greatest strength - more than the walls he could jump and the doors he could was really always about love.

May your memory be blessed.


Leora Hyman said...

This is so lovely Paula, such a beautiful tribute to the four legged member of your family. May you find comfort in your memories.

Chana Cohen said...

Paula, once again, I feel you. I pray for your dad (and your mom) and you....and your entire family. I'm so glad that Hashem gave you the talent of words to pour out the emotions of a world gone mad...and a world gone sad. May your memories only bring you joy, may Hashem grant your family health and happiness, and may we all be part of the coming of Amen

LeahDShae said...

I am so very sorry for your loss! May the remainder of your sorrow be guilt free, and may Simba's memory, which has already taught you so much, continue to be a blessing, always.

Wendy Derovan said...

I understand your pain completely. The loss and pain are real and valid, and he will be missed daily. You gave him a great life, as much as he gave you. The only thing that makes it better, as you have learned, is getting another one! Keep on writing!!

Cindy said...

Such a beautiful tribute. Losing a pet causes an ache that's hard to describe. I'm so sorry for your loss and will keep you in my prayers.

Cathy Sherman said...

Paula, I'm so sorry for your loss. I understand how you feel - about taking the time to mourn your 4-legged friend - but all of us dog-lovers do the same at some points along the way, and it's okay. The loss of a pet creates a big hole. Thank you for sharing about Simba. I was especially touched by his care for Sushi. What a sweet dog he was. And to think you were going through this when you were also dealing with getting our tickets. So sorry.

Batya Medad said...

This post has been included in the Chanukah Jewish Blog Post Roundup: HH and KCC. Enjoy. You're in good company!

Anonymous said...

So sorry for the loss of your precious fur baby.....I feel your pain having been there as well. May the wonderful memories you have of Simba give you comfort as you mourn for him. Have you heard of It's the best site for those who have lost a pet. Take care, Jan

Anonymous said...

P.S The death of one dog, or one's pet is never meaningless, they are part of our families, they have souls. They are pure love. Jan

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