The Gift of Barclay

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Barclay (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel)

Those who have had to say good-bye to the dog in the family understand. Others may wonder how a pet’s death can cause such deep sadness.

August 22, 2020

Yesterday morning it became clear that Barclay, our nine year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was laboring and less able to enjoy life. We knew he has the heart condition many Cavalier King Charles Spaniels develop and have seen signs Barclay is slowing down. He isn’t his playful self.

Barclay took his last ride in the car, wagged his tail going into the veterinary clinic, and sat on my lap while Kay and I faced the decision we did not want to make. As he did the first time I held him — he was (3.5 lbs.), he licked my face and nibbled my left ear, expressing that same love and trust with Kay before they gave him the first shot that tranquillized him.

Five days later, August 27

The feeling now is emptiness and the irrational sense of guilt for “putting him down,” as they say. Kay and I are teary and sad. I have a flood of tears behind the dam of denial. I miss his presence: the morning kiss and nibble on my ear; walking one step behind me going down the stairs, like a paramedic ready for a rescue; his delight chasing light and shadows, moths and butterflies; throwing his ball at our feet for a game of soccer (he was a goalie; you couldn’t get the ball past him); alerting us when it was time to watch Ari, have a cocktail, and play two or three minutes of soccer; his gentleness with grandson Elijah; practicing the training commands he liked — sit, down, heel, leave it — while regarding the rest as suggestions to consider; sitting patiently to lick the peanut butter from our fingers.

To call Barclay “precious” understates his sweetness and goodness.

Six days later, August 28

It’s been six days since Barclay died. I haven’t been able to shake the sorrow. The tears remain locked behind the dam in the reservoir of sorrow filled by the tears a lifetime. These feelings are particular to this moment in time, but the reservoir feels deeper and darker than the loss of Barclay. The picture of his last moment —lying on the veterinarian’s table with his paws hanging over the edge, trusting us with his life — still haunts me.

These feelings are what they always are: neither rational nor irrational. Reason can measure the width and depth of things, but it has no access to the depths of the non-rational, known only to the heart.

Twelve Days Later, September 3

It’s time for the evening news. Barclay is missing; Donald Trump is not. I’m struck by the contrast. Barclay never lied. There was no pretense in him. Lying and pretense were as far from Barclay’s character as honesty and humility are from the former president. During Barclay’s nine years with us, he never had an accident. Not once. Donald Trump made a mess of the White House, and continues to smear the media with his excreta every day. There is no good reason one would confuse the stench from a pigsty with the aroma wafting from a bakery. When everything is shaking, reason does not stop the quivering. Shaking and calmness are matters of the heart.

At my age, the reservoir has its share of grief and sadness. Much of the sorrow is of my own making, things I have done and left undone that hurt others and myself. Mixed with those tears are the gasps of a global lament: the mess we are leaving to our grandchildren; the horror of January 6 and the relentless disinformation that erodes the public trust on which the survival of democratic republic depends; the Big Lie swallowed and promoted by those who know it’s not true; the return of the hangman’s noose and the hanging tree, weapons of mass destruction, war, and guns concealed and carried freely in public; the insanity of the Strong Man pummeling Ukraine into submission, and the former American president who, like Putin, knows no other words than MINE; the fundamentalist churches’ exchange of the gospel of the crucified Jesus, the Loser, for the prosperity gospel for winners.

How much the reservoir is personal and how much is public is hard to tell, but I also know there are tears of joy and love in my deepest self. All that’s left at the end is love. If my DNA follows my parents’ lifespans, I have six or eight years left to release the sorrow, guilt, and shame, and re-fill the reservoir with tears of joyful thanksgiving for the gift of Barclay and of life itself. Love never ends.

Gordon C. Stewart, Brooklyn Park, MN, September 7, 2022

Living within nature’s rhythms

“I can soon begin to tell the time by how the light is slanting off our walls at sunrise and when the darkness falls — and I suppose back to a more essential human life.

~ Pico Iyer, The Urgency of Slowing Down. An Interview with Krista Tippett (Onbeing, November, 2018), quoted by Live & Learn.

Living within nature’s rhythms comes less naturally to us than it did for our ancestors. I say, “Let there be light,” flip a switch, and there is light. “The light was called ‘day’ and the darkness called ‘night’.” Not anymore. The darkness is as light to us. But not to dogs!

Barclay, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel shadow chaser.

Barclay, the canine companion who joins me for my daily afternoon nap, is what they call a shadow chaser. He lives by the movements of the sun, the hourly changes of light and shadow. Barclay aims to please. He’s very respectful of the napper. He lies very still . . . until it’s time . . . and he moves from the foot of the bed up to the pillow and licks my face to say “it’s time!”

The angle of the light from the bedroom window is his alarm clock. He knows the exact moment of the shift in the light’s angle that says it’s time to get up and head quickly to master suite bathroom where the light will be like the aurora borealis. Time to rise and shine. Time for me to open and shut the shower door. Over an over, to make the light move around the floor and walls so he can jump at it, pounce on it, eat it, or catch it with a paw. It’s playtime! Until the angle of the light shining through the small hexagonal window changes and the stream of light disappears until tomorrow about 3:10 PM . . . unless the clouds hide keep the light away, and it’s time to stay quiet at the foot of the bed for another day.

Morning sun on cabin wall.

The closest I get to nature’s rhythms here in Chaska is the end of nap time. At the cabin by the wetland, it’s altogether different. The light streams in everywhere, always from a different angle, luscious golden sunlight dancing on the rough-cut pine walls, or the blue light of the full moon that streams through once a month. And all without flipping a switch.

And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Gen. 1:3-5)

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, January 31, 2019.

Do we have to go outside?

The following conversation took place this morning with Barclay, the five year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, in a warm living room in Chaska, Minnesota where it’s -33 degrees F outside.

temperature map, Jan. 30, 2019.

I’m not going!

You have to!

Why?

‘Cause you’re a dog.

But it’s 26 degrees BELOW ZERO out there! It’s only 10 above in Antarctica!

I know. We’ll make it quick. I promise.

Oh, sure! What you mean, “We’ll make it quick?”

We’ll go out and go real fast.

Easy for you to say. You have a big coat and boots!

But you’re a dog. You have a coat.

You’re makin’ stuff up. You’re prejudiced!

I’m not prejudiced!

Are too!

Am not!

Prove it!

There’s no way to prove I’m not.

Uh-huh! You go outside and I’ll go inside!

You can’t go inside and I can’t go outside.

Why?

‘Cause dogs go outside and humans go inside. I’d get arrested for indecent exposure.

See. I told you! You’re prejudiced. I’m not going out there!

Barclay, I’m sorry. There’s no alternative.

Uh-huh!!!! It’s warm in the basement.

But the basement’s part of the house. You’re a dog. You know the rule. You can’t go in the house!

I’m not going out there! You have paper towels. Take me to the basement! It’s warm down there.

How about I put on your winter coat and your booties?

Barclay in his winter coat..

Okay! Deal!!! You put on my winter coat and booties . . . then we go in the basement!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, January 30, 2019.


Lightly Child, Lightly

David Kanigan’s post arrived this morning. I’m turning to it after events this afternoon. P.S. David writes from Canada.

Live & Learn

I pause under that summer tree, the one that feels like a friend, as my dog wonders why we’ve stopped. She was trotting in such rhythm. But when this still, I wonder what part of me, way down, remains untouched by dream or memory? What drop of being remains out of reach of the opinions of others? When up close, each thing reveals its shimmer. And it’s the unexpected closeness that holds everything together. The light spreads across my dog’s face, her eyes so devoted to wherever I want to go.

Can I be this devoted to the pull of life?  

Mark Nepo, from “Speechless” in Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living


Notes:

  • Photo: Bill Leslie with Groovy Times
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying…

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My Dog’s Happy Hour

Barclay smiling

Barclay smiling in the car

There’d been no intention of a Happy Hour yesterday when I decided to go to Target for a short errand. “Barclay,” I asked, “wanna go for a ride in the car?” Barclay cocked his head, ran for the door to the underground garage, and leaped for joy. We drove to Target. I cracked open the windows, left Barclay in the car. In the parking lot, I see my friend Chuck, whom I’d been with an hour earlier on a business matter where I’d asked whether he’d ever been to Ike’s. He hadn’t. “Why do you ask? Is it good?” “I don’t know. I’ve never been there,” I’d said. “My neighbor Michael tells me it has the best Martini in town — not one of those tiny Martinis you get at most places around here. It’s big, and they give you the shaker, too.”

Inside Target, Chuck and I take our places in the line for picking up prescriptions. The line is long. Neither of us is good at waiting. We decide, on the spur of the moment, to go to Ike’s Happy Hour for a different prescription. We leave Target and join Barclay for the trip to Ike’s. At Ike’s I again leave Barclay in the car, opening all four windows a little more than I had at Target. As he always does, Barclay smiles. He knows the routine. He lies down on the driver’s seat.

Sitting at the bar for our nonprescription drugs, we notice the wind has come up and it’s pouring rain outside. “Do you think Barclay’s okay?” asks Chuck. “He’ll be fine,” I say, “nothing flusters him. He’s not afraid of storms.” The Martini is everything Michael had said it would be. So is the Happy Hour food he’d recommended: two mouth-watering beef tenderloin sliders with grilled onions and horseradish sauce, one on pumpernickel, the other on sourdough, for $7.50. We love this place!

We pay the tab and head back to the car. Barclay is calm until Chuck opens the passenger door. Barclay sits up, smothers Chuck with kisses, and says, “I was worried about you guys!” Both seats are partially wet from the storm. Barclay is dry. We are not.

Barclay on chest

Barclay

We leave Ike’s parking lot and drive back to Target where Chuck had left his car. Chuck goes in for his prescription. Barclay and I call it a day and head home. Safe at home in the underground garage, Barclay stays put like a petulant child. “Dad, why can’t I stay in the car? I love Happy Hour!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 4, 2018

 

 

Elijah the 16 month-old walks the dog!


Elijah and Kay swingYesterday 16 month-old Elijah and his mom came by to visit Grandma and Bumpa (Grandpa). But mostly he wanted to play with his friend Barclay, the five year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He took Barclay for a walk and a little conversation on the parking lot, stopping to point to the sky, step up to the sidewalk, leash in hand, and walk Barclay as no one else ever has.

  • Elijah, Barclay, and Bumpa, September 30, 2018.

GARRY DESERVES THE DUKE, BUT WHAT ABOUT ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Marilyn Armstrong’s story of retired journalist Garry Armstrong and his dog Duke offers a great way to greet a Saturday. I’ve often wondered lately whether canines are superior to humans. The joy on Garry’s face leads to a different conclusion: humans and canines are meant for mutual play with no thought of superiority or species exceptionalism. Enjoy!

Elijah and Barclay’s Ball

Video

Some things bring a smile. This short clip of Elijah and our dog Barclay playing with Barclay’s ball is one of them. Turn up the volume and smile.

 

  • Grandpa Gordon with Grandma Kay, the movie producer. August 1, 2018

My Dog and I

Although words cannot describe the delight I feel watching Barclay romp freely in an open field, Mary Oliver’s poem comes close.

Click “The Storm (Dog)” to hear Mary’s poem read aloud on David Juda’s lovely poetry siteVoetica.com

As Mary said, “I couldn’t have said it better.”

Barclay and Gordon

The Calm after The Stormy Romp — Barclay and Dad

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 10, 2018.

One day tells its tale to another

It’s quiet this morning. The only sounds are from the birds.

IMG_9456

The wetland by the wilderness cabin

Redwing blackbirds feed on the cat-n-nine tails. Woodpeckers peck the trees. Canadian geese honk to stake their claim to what remains of the beaver lodge. Trumpeter swans blow their trumpets to shoo away the geese. The loons warble a primordial language, an echo of a time we cannot remember but dare not forget. The first sounds from a primordial Silence.

At daybreak at the edge of the wetland, I read from The Book of Common Prayer (BCP):

“One day tells its tale to another

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language,

and their voices not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands,

and their message to the ends of the world.”

[Psalm 19:2-4]

The Good, Good Earth: Our Island Home

The pale blue dot — our island home

I come to the wetland on this “pale blue dot” (Carl Sagan) in a vast universe to hear the primordial echo away from the human crowing, honking, and pecking that hurt my ears back home. Barclay, the ever faithful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel companion, lives by his own natural rhythm at home as well as here at the cabin, but his wagging tail and constant smile here tell me he prefers this place where the only sounds come from the air and the wetlands.

Barclay smiling

Barclay smiling on way to the cabin

Barclay professes no particular creed, yet he seems to know better what my faith tradition, ducks, geese, swans, and loons know:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament God’s handiwork” [Psalm 19:1] and “the whole Earth is the Theater of the God’s glory” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion]. With the help of The Book of Common Prayer, hearing aids, and binoculars, I sense it too.

Glorify the [Primordial Silence], O springs of waters, seas, and streams,

O whales, and all that move in the waters,

All birds of the air, glorify the [Primordial Silence],

Glorify God and praise God forever. 

[“Song of Creation” excerpt, Morning Prayer, BCP, p.89, amended by GCS]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, The Pea Pod, Northern Minnesota, May 6, 2018.