It was a beautiful summer day in the early 90s. The atmosphere had that delicious sleepy hum, drawing me with its magic outside–of both my head and the house. I decided to spend the afternoon on the lawn resting and reading. I lay a blanket on the grass, brought a couple of juicy books and an icy cold bottle of water. My dog, Lily, a 120-pound Great Pyrenees mix with a golden white coat, was happily hanging out with me. It was a rare day of leisure.
Suddenly, I heard commotion. Lily had jumped up and barked to greet two dogs who had wandered onto the property. One was a small beagle-mix. The other was Lily’s size with a big head and a deep, dense, long, black coat. The beagle was mostly indifferent to Lily and me. But the big dog and Lily acted like old friends reuniting after a long absence. They joyfully leapt and jumped around one another. They buried their faces in the thick scruff on one another’s massive necks, smelled each other’s butts, and licked and kissed on the lips.
So began a love story and a lesson for me about the light in the center of the deep darkness of conflict, fear and hatred. The two visitors did not have any collars. They looked somewhat underkempt, but not hungry. I was immediately charmed by my black, fuzzy visitor who also spent some time hanging his big head over me and accepting rubs with big sighs. He seemed temperamentally very much like Lily.
There was something so familiar about this dog. He captured my heart.
As the sun began to set, the beagle signaled to his friend that it was time to move on. They had entered my yard from south. The beagle pointed his nose to the north. The big guy started to follow, then hesitated and swung his head around to look longingly at Lily and me. The beagle, very business-like, kept moving on as if he was saying, “OK, do what you want. I’m on a mission.” Somehow, I sensed the beagle had decided to defect from his home. He was going away and never coming back. The black dog hung back and watched his friend go. He swung his head back from where he came to look in the distance and then he returned and rejoined us.
An hour passed, then two. The dog showed no signs of following his friend, nor going home. I sighed. My day of rest was over. I decided to see if I could find the owner. I got up, packed him and Lily in the car and decided to drive in the direction from which the dogs had come. I lived in the country to the north of a large farm estate beyond which were dirt country roads going up a mountain. I figured that maybe the dogs had come from one of the houses there. There weren’t that many, so I hoped it would be an easy trail to follow.
Sure enough, after stopping at a couple of houses a few miles away as the crow flies, but 5 miles by car, a man who answered his door said, “That’s Joe’s dog.” He directed me to a house a half mile up the road.
I pulled up into the driveway and went to the front door. A woman answered. I explained the situation and described the dog. She said, “Yes, that’s Jake. Thanks for bringing him back.” I told her I did not know what had become of the beagle. I put Jake into her hands and drove away. I suggested that maybe she should put a collar on her dogs. We exchanged phone numbers in case Jake returned. I drove away as Lily stared longingly out the back window at her friend. He stood and looked at us as dust rose behind the car. Then he was out of sight.
Something began to happen: Jake started to come every few days for a visit. The first time, I called his people and Joe eventually arrived to load him up in his pickup. The second time he had an air of deep anger about him and accused me of trying to steal his dog. It was distressing given that I was doing what any good neighbor would do: making sure they knew where their dog was and alerting them to come and retrieve him. Jake was free to come and go, in any case. I was not feeding him, nor holding him back.
After that unpleasant encounter, I called the next time Jake arrived. No one came. Jake stayed until nightfall. The next time he came, I called again. No one responded. And the next. Finally, on about the fourth call, the woman left a message that they had gone out of town and would not be back for another 4 days. It had already been three. I was concerned–how could people leave their dog loose and without care for a week? It was strange. Then Jake left and didn’t come round for a week or so. I assume his people had returned home.
And then Jake kept coming. He and Lily were in love–a handsome pair–one black, the other white–salt and pepper. The same size and close in age. They romped and played, slept butt to butt and nuzzled. Their joy in one another’s presence was palpable. They were partners.
Jake would stay for the day and then at some point turn to walk home–a trek of about 3 miles through fields and forests and up the mountain. He was a congenial and pleasant visitor. I figured Jake had the best of both worlds: he had his people and he could come to visit and play with the love of his life and then return home in the evening. His walk home was not along busy thoroughfares. He was not at risk for being hit by a car and I assumed the folks who lived between my house and his knew this big dog’s patterns and did not mind his passage through their property. After all, it was the country. Folks left their dogs to roam. It was the rural way despite county laws.
This went on for about 6 months. One day, when Jake came and was still there when I woke up in the morning, I decided to drive Jake to the house. When I got there, there was an air of forlorn abandonment. I walked up to the front door. I knocked. No one answered. I called and left a message. I let Jake out and drove away. Several hours later, I picked up a voicemail. It was the woman. She said that she and Joe were getting a divorce and that Jake was now his problem. Jake arrived again the next morning.
Jake began to look more scruffy as the weeks and months passed. He was hanging around more and not leaving at night. I called again and again. I finally began to feed him occasionally because he was obviously hungry. No one answered the calls. I eventually gave up. I figured if Joe really wanted his dog, he knew where to find him. Jake would eventually leave, and then come back again, sometimes the next day or a few days later. It began to become a rhythm.
Then a strange synchronicity happened. My husband and I saw a flyer for an old Virginia farmhouse for sale up the valley from where we lived. When we drove there to look, it turned out it was just past Joe’s house on that dirt and gravel road.
We bought the place a month later and moved in. It seemed as if the universe was lining up so that Jake and Lily could more easily spend time together, even while they remained bonded with their own people, for better or worse.
And so it was that Jake quickly found us because Lily would go outside and signal her presence with her big, Great Pyrenees bark. Now they could visit and play more regularly as Jake walked 2/10ths of a mile between our house and his. Once again, it seemed to be a happy situation. Each had their home and they had one another. We lived in the center of a beautiful, elevated valley in a mountain cove. Few cars and lots of country. Neither dogs’ life was at risk. Because Lily was loved and all her emotional and physical needs amply tended to, she did not leave our 4-acre property. Jake would visit and go home again. Back and forth. He never stayed the night. We never saw Joe and his house often seemed empty when we drove by.
So life in the bucolic countryside went on.
Then one day, I was driving home from work up the 5-mile road. It was spring and the mountain was beautiful, the air fresh and bright. I was in a happy mood. After that first encounter, there had been no more fraught interactions with Joe. Largely, he seemed to rarely be around.
Suddenly, he appeared on the road in front of me, driving in the opposite direction on an ATV with his young daughter straddled in front of him on the seat. I slowed down, stopped and rolled my window down. I said hello cheerily and asked how he was.I figured all was copacetic: Joe had his dog and Jake wandered like any country dog back and forth between our houses and around the mountain.
Joe stared intensely at me. I could smell an acrid odor of old beer emanating from him–like someone who drinks all day and never metabolizes the alcohol. He scowled and growled at me, “You are trying to steal my dog. I know what I’m going to do: I’m going to kill Jake just to get back at you.” I was shocked. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I hastily rolled up my window and hurried home. I ran into the house and yelled to my husband, “Where is Jake? Is he here? Where is Lily?! Is she in the house?” I had images of Joe killing not only Jake, but Lily. He was a hunter. His guns were mounted on the back window of his truck. Lily was inside and Jake was in the yard. We brought Jake in the house.
I decided to drive up the road to another neighbor’s to talk to Chris. He was a good friend and was liked by everyone in the neighborhood. I told Chris the story. Chris pondered for a minute—he was a very wise man. He knew, as everyone in the neighborhood knew that Joe was an alcoholic and generally very irascible and angry. Chris said, “I think Joe is just blowing off steam. Let things go and the dust will settle. I doubt he’ll kill Jake or Lily.”
I wasn’t convinced.
On top of it all, ironically, I was leaving the next day for a 10-day silent meditation retreat in Massachusetts. I was angry and frightened–not exactly the condition you want to be in when sitting in silence on a cushion 400 miles away from a loved one whose life had been threatened. It had been obvious over the years that Joe basically neglected Jake. Nevertheless, Jake stayed loyal to his master. There was really no reason for Joe to be upset. He had his dog, even while Jake–an outside dog–roamed the woods and fields on the mountain and visited and played with Lily.
I set out the next day for the retreat. Sitting on that cushion was deeply challenging. My body was tense. My mind was filled with dark fantasies of Joe shooting the two dogs. And yes, I was filled with hatred for this sad, sick man who clearly just saw Jake as property–a pawn in a war he had conjured up in his mind even while he didn’t take proper care of his dog.
The focus of the Buddhist retreat was on lovingkindness practice. All day, every day, from 6 in the morning until 10 at night, I sat or did walking meditation intoning the mantra, “May I be filled with lovingkindness, may I be happy, healthy, peaceful and free.” In the practice, you send lovingkindness to yourself, a loved one, a teacher or mentor, an enemy, and then all beings. I chose Joe for the “enemy.” Of course. I had to. I knew it would not do to hold hatred and anger towards this sad man. It would only hurt me.
So, I sat and walked. Four days passed. Then five. I struggled.
Then on the 6th day, I decided to meditate out in the woods behind the retreat center in a small, open-air gazebo. It was a nice day. My energy body had begun to open up and my mind and emotions showed some signs of settling.
I continued with the mantra–first for myself and then for Joe. I went back and forth, doing my best to work the program. I still was angry, fearful and upset. “May Joe be filled with lovingkindness, may he be happy, healthy, peaceful and free.”
Suddenly I heard a loud rustle in the leaves outside the gazebo. I opened my eyes and saw a red squirrel digging into the earth at the roots of a tree. Then something miraculous happened. It was as if from the very center of the pain and hatred in my heart towards Joe there burst forth a blast of light. A feeling of absolute, unconditional forgiveness for him filled me up. I was released. I released him. Tears streamed down my face.
From that moment on through the rest of the retreat, I was filled with an incredible sense of peace and love–for myself and Joe. For the forest, the birds and animals. I had a lightness of heart. I was no longer worried or scared.
I finally returned home. Jake and Lily were fine. Life continued as it had been. Jake came and went freely from house to house.
The story of these beautiful dogs’ love affair ended in some ways sadly, but not because of Joe. My husband and I divorced and I moved away and took Lily with me. It was a hard decision because I knew I was separating these two lovers. But, in the end, I needed Lily worse. She was my soulmate, the love of my life.
I talked to an animal communicator not long after my departure. She spoke with Lily and Jake. They both said that they understood. Lily knew that she needed to be with me, no matter where I went–that our love was her primary bond. The animal psychic also said that Jake had a similarly strong contract with Joe–that Jake’s job and purpose in life was to try to open up and heal Joe’s heart. This is why he always went back, despite the neglect. Despite his love for Lily.
Two years later, Lily died at the ripe old age of 12 years. She had lived a long and happy life.
About six months later, I heard from Chris. He told me that Jake had been found dead by a neighbor in the gulch on the side of the dirt road between Joe’s home and my former house. He apparently died only about 3 weeks after Lily. It was such a powerful testament to their soul bond and love.
Yes, they were meant to be together. That was clear. But even more they were supposed to do what our animal companions all do: to be a friend and a teacher to their people.
I will forever be grateful to Jake and to Joe. I learned the valuable lesson that at the heart of the darkness of pain, fear and hatred–that there is found the greatest light and love. I learned how to forgive and how to heal.
To walk in love, giving lovingkindness even to our enemies is a powerful, powerful medicine. Yes, we are messy and human. We will experience conflict–even war. Hatred may be in the mix. But with perseverance and the desire to heal and forgive, we can.
Jake and Lily–one white and one black–even in their appearance, gave this lesson. One is not separate from the other. The darkness and the light live in a dynamic dance. We can only know the deepest love if we also embrace the shadow.
Aho. May all beings be free. May all beings be in the light.