The Stepping Stones to You and Me

Jack: when first found
Jack: trusting again

C.S. Lewis said, ‘To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.’

Today I felt vulnerable: today I lost again. All my perforations reappeared, reminding me that they never really go away, and love doesn’t mask them: love takes those perforations and lets the light in. 

Yesterday I got to eat Christmas dinner with some of my family. After dinner, unlike other years, there was no wrapped gift for me – not because no one thought of me, no, they thought and knew the gifts I needed most was money and pet food; that’s what I got. My old self would have hurt, would have been disappointed with no presents or ‘the wrong presents’. The old me needed ‘things’ and those goalposts constantly shifted. Things were replaced with new things. Yes, gifts are lovely, and before Christmas Day, I felt child-like with excitement when friends gave and sent me gifts. Last night as I drove back from Galway City, it dawned on me I didn’t have a car full of things but I was truly happy within myself. Tired, weary, but happy. That kind of ‘Happy’ that balances the ‘see-saw’ when missing loved ones or stressors weigh heavy on the other side; the kind of happy that tells you, you can still smile whilst missing and hurting from time to time. The kind of happy that if you died today or tomorrow, the feeling I’ve done my best (finally!) will present itself like a final credit in your life movie. 

This morning I woke up at 3am. And I reached for my phone to see missed calls from my sister. She had the senior rescues. I knew. I knew. I knew Jack had passed. Jack who shared a decade with us; Jack who when first rescued built a wall of shoes and other household items to keep us out. Jack who pre-rescue spent his days walking in and out of Ennis from the outskirts to pass his days, kept walking as he was afraid to standstill incase humans stole his life again. Jack. Jack who was our ‘home’. Jack who was never a pet; he went on to mind us and kept minding us even as his heart failed; his love never did. We thought we were minding him over the last few years: he was minding us all the time. 

And so your world shifts again and you are plunged onto that lonely life stage where all your vulnerabilities, those perforations appear – attempting to colour ‘you’ out.  But you and I have been here before, and you know what lies ahead. All because you and I let love in again. 

Jack made me a better person. Heart failure meant sleep was often stolen and shopping became like a hunt for treasure: finding foods that would help his ‘medicine go down’. He had a lot of tablets to take and it took a lot of time some days to get him to take them. But they bought us time with him.  Everyday from his diagnosis the sand was running out. So we loved more and more – playing tug of war with death. 

In C.S. Lewis’s book  ‘The four great loves’ – one of them is when men are on the battlefield and their willingness to die for each other. Not just romantic or familial love. No, men ready to give up their lives for each other is one of the greatest loves. When you love someone so much you would give your life for theirs, it is probably the peak of selflessness. And I guess that is the peak we should be aiming for in life: to live life less selfishly. Lewis should also have added in ‘love for animals’ as one of the greatest loves: it is probably one of the purest. 

So what does that say about the man who tortures an innocent fox or the man or woman who cheers as a hound chases a hare to death or when their hounds pull a fox apart. What does it say? They need and want to do these things? They want to witness and inflict suffering? They don’t want to be better people so they find like-minded people who allow them to exist as they are, to express their sadistic way of beings and to never let light in. They choose darkness and in darkness there can never be enlightenment. But it is choice and that is the frightening part.

At the end of the day: are they not loved enough; have not being loved enough or maybe, they don’t feel worthy of love? 

When you love animals it’s brutally tormenting when people hurt them or abuse them. And so when we rescue, we get the opportunity to intervene in what  ‘man’ has done or inflicted on an animal.  We get that chance to love the once loveless. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with us: loving all beings morally elevates us above those who don’t. 

Tonight as I write this, my toes can nearly tip the bottom of the bed frame. Tonight Jack should be here and instead of reaching the base – my legs would be bent to make room for him. Always so comforting and a feeling of being safe: having him there. 

None of us are getting out of here alive. I know that. It is when we fully realise the fragility of life and lives, is the moment we should want to do better, be better. Jack was the present that kept giving. He made us live fully in each moment and he helped us let love in again and again. Many of you know this feeling of deep love and even deeper loss. Animals do make us better human beings. Not everyone wants to admit that, not everyone will realise that. 

As a New Year approaches, I’m not going to take with me my usual regrets and ‘if onlys’: once and for all, I’m going to gather them up and ‘reframe them’ and rearrange them in my mind as stepping stones to all the animals and people I love: stepping stones to who I am today. It’s important to keep stepping forward and not to keep looking back with resentments, anger and all those other difficult emotions that stop us truly moving forward. The only reasons we should look back is to learn if we must or to reminisce fondly. 

Yes, the price of love is terrible loss but what love pays out is far greater. Animals love us unconditionally and that is how we should love ourselves. Animals don’t focus on our faults: we are enough just as we are.

My first night without Jack is desperately lonely: there is no little head lifting up to check am I awake. There is no lick on my hand I leave over the blanket for him, to comfort him through a coughing episode. There is no Jack under his blanket folded at the end. But there is this: a memory of a frail young dog, who needed a wall to exist between us and him; there is a memory of a dog who learned to trust again and love us and life dearly; there is a decade of memories and moments that would not exist only he did in our lives. 

Tonight I’m also thinking of the young girl who when walking home from a night out, saw Jack, recognised him from all the social media stories, and people’s attempts to catch him, and as he slept on the steps of The Friary in Ennis at 2am, over 10 years ago, she picked him up and never let go until she got through her front door. Jack wanted to run but she knew his time for running had to come to an end. She called me the next morning as I had put up a post, ‘if anyone catches him, I will take him’. And as they say, the rest is history: our history together. 

Love you Jack x

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