My wife’s voice trembled on the other end of the phone.
Our dog’s inoperable tumor had grown to deadly proportions. The graying beagle could no longer eat or breathe comfortably.
“Okay,” I sighed.
I asked our girls if they wanted to see the dog one last time. “She’s going to sleep,” I said, thankful for the euphemism. Our eldest, who loves veterinary TV shows, recognized the gentle code and launched herself into my arms. Our youngest, not yet comprehending death, looked on as her sister bawled.
“I just want mommy to come home!” our eldest cried.
That was fine. In the hours before the appointment, the girls had stroked the dog and pressed their heads to hers, quietly staring into the beagle’s brown eyes for long, loving stretches.
“Just come back,” I told my wife. “I’ll go to the vet’s office as soon as you get here.”
I had vowed to go the final mile, hoping to spare everyone the pain of an execution. I suppose the romantic in me also wanted to see my dog off alone. It would be just the two of us at the edge of embarkation, dog and man on one last walk.
The old girl reacted as happily as she could when I arrived, letting out an excited whine. Some tortured coughing followed, hacking that rattled her body. I sat down next to the soft pallet the vet had prepared.
“Remember the mountains?” I cooed. “Remember the woods we walked in?”
And we had been so many places. She was a well-traveled beagle and a seasoned hiker, familiar with the primeval forests of the Northeast, the parched ranges of southwestern Montana, the sweet, sloping foothills of Tennessee.
All was quiet there on the cool tile. Man and dog together at the placid end.
The vet stopped by now and then, not wanting to pressure me. I finally waved her in, listening as she narrated the process. One syringe contained a sedative and one held the lethal dose. The killer substance was a mocking shade of pink, the type of alluring neon that beckons in those dangerous under-the-sink bottles.
After the dog slumped gently under the weight of the sedative, the pink death did its work. The dog lay immobile, a haggard lump where life once coursed.
The central proclamation of Christianity is God’s victorious entry into creation. In the person of Christ, God takes on flesh to raise God’s handiwork, enduring death to eradicate death, walking the earth to lift the world to its intended deification. The victory of Christ plants a seed of transformation, eating away at rot and tangles and disharmony, burning through decay to bring forth a resplendent creation in total harmony with God.
In this coming world, swords will become plowshares and sun and moon will be obsolete, pale in comparison to the eternal radiance of God. There will be no more weeping, no more mortality, no more disaster or predation.
No more lifeless dogs or syringes filled with deceptively gay pink.
Some go to church to hear and partake of this promise. In great buildings and unremarkable little rooms the world over, bread, wine, and people made spiritual look toward the hour when, at long last, the greater creation will be irrevocably alive with God.
But we can also know eschatological hope acutely in prayerful silence, in private and internal moments.
When we sit and grow calm, letting go of those damnable incessant mental processes, we can sense the nearness of the divine life and its inevitable workings. We can sense transfiguration growing within and without, spreading like a great tide. We can feel the rising dawn as we tread inside, as we sit enfolded in that easy warmth.
In those minutes and hours, death loses some of its sting. And this is not because we are engaged in some sort of meditative escapism, some anesthesia passing as reparative communion. Instead, we are having an “experimental” encounter with a force untouched by death.
In this space out of space, this time out of time, hope lies starkly, nakedly, beyond description and protest. Hope is there, exceeding all language and defying all doubt. If we are sorrowful, if a lovely walk that began in a forest ends on the floor of a vet’s office, we do not need to seek reassurance from others. We do not need to turn to thinkers, talkers, prognosticators, or teachers. We simply need to be still and know.
People will come and go. Stars will burn and collapse and seed fiery space. Dogs will depart and little girls will look for them in the usual places, finding empty bath mats and beds. But, as silence tells us, the great time will come.
I pray our dogs will come with it.