If the boat were empty, He would not be shouting, and not angry.
– Chuang Tzu
Early Saturday afternoon I pulled into my driveway after a regular morning at the Zen Center. I saw my husband walking our dog Molly half a block up the hill.
I later wished I had rolled down the window and called to them. He might have turned back. Then I could have taken Molly for her walk as I do every day, sometimes twice a day, a comfortable habit.
But I didn’t, and about 10 minutes later he shouted into the front door. “I’m taking Molly to the vet!” It didn’t quite register with me. He already told me he had a list in mind of things to get done that I really wanted him to get done: fixing the sprinklers, picking oranges, taking my car in for tires and alignment. I wandered into the kitchen to investigate. I saw then that Molly was limping on three legs, her left rear leg hiked up in an awkward clutch.
“Molly hurt herself,” my husband said. “She was chasing a squirrel and I didn’t see it. She must have tripped on a hole in the ground. She didn’t cry.”
“You had her off leash?” I gaped. He took a half a minute to tell me the particulars. Yes, she was off leash up at the wilderness park at the end of the street, a place he liked to go instead of walking all around the block, a place he liked to take her off leash to satisfy what he thought she really wanted to do, what dogs should do, sprint around after birds and squirrels.
“I never take her off leash up there,” I said to his back as he left.
* * *
We have a big yard, and although I thought it would be ruined when we adopted our dog, she has made a peaceable kingdom of this place, and we all get by.
Sometimes she saunters out back through an open door and lounges in a pool of pure sunshine on our grassy hill. Other times she barrels off at top speed from a standing start, chasing a dart of shadow or sound. Her sleek flanks ripple in a bronze shimmer of grace and power. She launches these feats from an invisible, intuitive surge. We call her Super Dog.
Saturday afternoon I sat at my desk behind a picture window overlooking the north yard. I saw Molly outside accelerate across the turf and out of my sight toward the perimeter fence. I later wished I had called her in when I saw her bolt, but it’s nice to leave things be when you’re otherwise occupied. She must have seen people strolling on the sidewalk beyond. Maybe neighbors walking a dog.
A minute later I heard her paws click on the parquet behind me. She was limping, her left rear leg hiked up in an awkward clutch.
“What happened to you, Molly?” I spoke gently, in a radiating stillness. There was no way to guess or judge. No one else to ask or blame.
* * *
It’s not so uncommon for dogs of Molly’s size and type to tear their anterial cruciate ligament. It’s a knee injury that tends to end the careers of the fleet of foot, like football players and lion hunters. Because Molly is still young, we have the inconvenient option of unaffordable surgery and an even more excruciating recuperation – weeks, a month or so, crated and immobile, on drugs.
We were shocked for a bit, foggy about what to do, veering toward the least, the easy, the nothing. Thankfully, we now have a clear-minded vet in the sisterhood, and she answered my question. We will do all we can to make our dog well, and soon.
My heart is broken with sympathy and concern. I shudder with fear and doubt that I can manage her long convalescence and confinement. This morning I’m scrubbing rugs, washing and bleaching towels and rags, releasing my fragile hold on normal. As a result of her stress or medication or both, she cannot manage herself through the night. Today we’ll schedule her surgery and see what happens next.
All of that is trouble enough. But what rends me in two is that I cannot yet reconcile the difference in the two stories I’ve told you of how it happened. I have not emptied the boat. Until I can, I too am unwell, and I spread even more pain in these broken down places.