Monday, February 18, 2008

"... that love seems easy at first ..." -- Hafez
(Dedicated to my dear friend Nazy Kaviani.)

While waiting in a lounge in Beth Israel hospital for my x-ray results, I watched a replay of a DVD about Dalai Lama's meditation. It was titles Compassionate Meditation. If I understood the message of the Zen Master correctly, we all love, and are concerned about, people who are either related to us as family members or as friends or distance relatives. Some of them, like our immediate family, we spend plenty of time with, while with the rest we spend much less. Otherwise, we spend the bulk of our time with people with whom we have no relationship, those we are in contact with through work, not necessary our co-workers but even those who are affected by our jobs. Also, those with whom we share a common space daily, those with whom we drive side by side on the highways and streets, or those alongside whom we walk in parks and streets. Since we are not connected to these people personally, we do not even see the necessity of loving them, or even thinking about them. The teachings of the Dalai Lama suggest a kind of meditation to connect ourselves to these “middle” individual and love them as we love those related to us, just to guarantee peace and harmony. The DVD showed classes in Los Angeles where people would go to meditate, and, as is customary, they sat with crossed legs on the floor with closed eyes. Though their voices were not audible, I could hear in the back of my mind the sound of ommmm.

I watched the DVD and fell back into my armchair and whispered to my self ommmm. “What does ommmm mean, Mommy joun?” I asked myself.

This I repeated many times to myself to the memory of my dog who died two years ago. He was a stray dog whom my husband found one Sabbath night in his way back from synagogue. I was getting dinner ready, and waiting for him to return, when he called and told me I should take the car to the nearby college to bring a lost dog home. By the time I arrived, the police and university guards were trying to catch him (not my husband, the dog!) Well, they would not let us to bring him home; we even had to lie and sign a form saying that we knew the dog and his owner. (New York City in those days put large old stray dogs to sleep.)

We brought the dog home. Being a large mix breed of German shepherd, husky, and Doberman and few others things, being mature, male, ill and badly infected with worms, he was not adoptable. We had no choice but to add one more head to our household of four to become five. We had two little dogs (Mercutio and Ginger) already. We called him bill clinton. (Yes all lower case, the most fashionable in graphics!) We gave him this name since he was very intelligent and very handsome and indeed very manipulative. Neighbors called him mr. president (all with lower case, I guess.) In addition to taking care of his sicknesses, we had to chip him so that he could be retrieved if lost, and also to neuter him. The veterinarian’s treatment bill reading “Bill Clinton neutered” could have made headlines!

Before long, all three got to know each other and their boundaries. Though he was much bigger and stronger and could impose his will upon them, he gave them the right to have the privilege of having everything first. He would stay away and let them drink first or grab the first piece of treats, or to come to us first when we came home. He was very protective of them and stayed behind the fence with his ears pricked when my husband would take the little ones out, and listen to their barking as if to make sure it was out of playfulness rather than pain. Plato was right after all to say we all should learn citizenship from dogs!

He very clearly did not like Mercutio (I think he was jealous of her being much smarter and more intelligent.) However, he liked Ginger, who was just cute and a sort of a beach bunny. Once, when I ran after Ginger to scold her (she was in the habit of tunneling under the fence to the neighbors house), clinton came and pushed me aside and guided Ginger to the kitchen under his bed and then, with pricked ears, stood in front of me very boldly, as if to say, “All right, any problem?”

His thoughtfulness and concern was not limited to those with whom he packed. Indeed, he was very gentle with children. One night when we had my husband’s little niece and nephew in our home, the kids insisted on feeding the dog everything including scallion and parsley. The dog liked neither of these bitter herbs, but to please them he ate whatever they gave him. He threw up later, but did not complain. However, once my husband’s thesis advisor, who happened to be an athlete, a professional mountain climber who had climbed Mount Washington, was our guest and by chance came to the kitchen to see one of my artifacts, clinton did not approve the visit; to our embarrassment, he jumped at him and ripped his trousers. I took it as statement: “Mount Washington is one thing, but this kitchen is mine!” I think the main reason was his strong huge body and his being too tall and healthy looking; Bill clinton did not like that kind of nature’s arrogance.

That day in the hospital, delighted with the Zen Master’s wisdom, and humoring the Americans for having quite a talent for commercializing everything, I noticed that I was not surprised by the message, as if I had heard it before. I have read only one of the Dalai Lama’s books and there was nothing of compassionate meditation in it. But it sounded very familiar, that ommm. It was bill clinton’s ommmm. Was it just a simple association or was clinton well-versed in the Zen Master’s recommended practice of love and peace?

Very often, whenever he was unhappy about something, when he was forced to stay in his small cozy den in the kitchen or wear his muzzle or wait and watch Mercutio and Ginger receive preferential treatment or watch us have those little ones in bed with us while he was not invited, he would repose and grump ommm. Then I would say, “What do you mean by ommm?” to which he would respond, ommm. We would play this game until we both would regain our humor and temper. It seemed he had enough wisdom to know that the moments of actual love and affection are but a very small portion of life and the rest is a big mass of enduring, patience, and sometimes even unhappiness. He knew better to love me not only during those brief periods of special care and attention, not only when I feed him or clean after him, or when I wrap his medicine in peanut butter or change his bedding or walk and talk with him or rub his belly, but those long uneventful hours, even those bitter times of scolding him. It seemed that he intuitively perceived the Zen Master’s message (or the Zen Master learned it from dogs!) and tried to connect to those “middle unhappy” fragments of his life.

A few years ago, at Frankfurt Airport, while waiting for my connecting flight to Strasburg I came across a copy of Dalai Lama’s book The Modern, Man Ancient Wisdom in a small newsstand. I bought the book and immediately started reading it. It was the treasure I was looking for. It was a manual for how to deal with the hassles of modern life and how to maintain sanity and be happy. While reading the book eagerly, I searched for a chapter or a page or even paragraph about how to prepare myself for the most dreadful unavoidable event which I would have ahead of me, the day I have to let go of those dogs. Alas, there was not even a reference to any dog, living or dead. His prime examples for pain and anguish consisted of getting old, being in need of others’ help, torture, solitary confinements, banishment, exile, poverty and sickness. These were among the hardship he imagined one needs to have extra strength to overcome. There were even chapters about human relationships as the main source of unhappiness in our time, but none about dogs and their loss. By the time I reached Strasburg, I had gone through almost the entire book with no answer as what to do when the time comes. How to prepare for that D-day? This was the question which had occupied my mind since we got our first dog Mercutio. I could not even imagine that one day holding one of these creatures in my arms and, while they expected me to help and nurture them, I would consent to have them put to sleep. How could I?

It was only five years later that I noticed the wisdom of His Holiness in not mentioning “how to prepare for that D day” in his book: Nothing whatsoever could possibly prepare one for such pain, nothing at all. It is very different from any kind of lose. The day Mercutio died, I thought, how did he know?

Ginger died just four months later and clinton did not last much longer; he died eight month later. In each farewell I realized how wrong people were to assume that pets take after their owners. It was I who took after them and become like them truly. I was delighted that to learn that, although I missed them very much, they are so alive inside me.

Neither of them lasted long enough to guide our bodies to the burial place, to drive away the Ahrimans, but I’m sure they will wait on Chinvat Bridge to welcome us with their bright eyes, to lead us to Heaven. I’m sure that, even though their moments of happiness were much shorter than those unhappy times, they were happy with us, thanks to compassionate meditation. (I assume that if bill clinton knew it, the other two knew it as well.)

If the Zen Master neglected to mention the virtue of being close to dogs, I’m sure that was to avoid repeating what was said before him by our prophet Zoroaster. If for Plato dogs were considered champion citizens, our Good Prophet considered dogs as a holy next to Ahura Mazda, even above the prophet himself, as the holiest creature. The dog is revered in our Good Religion for his moral qualities of its faithfulness, devotion and love. As in any ancient culture, it is the practice, not the intention, which leads us to perfection. Zoroastrianism, like Buddhism or Hinduism, guides human being to excellence through practice. The Zoroastrian sacrament of sheltering stray dogs and protecting them, and the duty to feed a dog at least once a day, is a simple practice of pure love, giving, and devotion without expecting any reward.

There is a special ritual and prayer of “uniting with the dog” in the high ceremony of Noshow, or purification, in our Good Religion. Every Zoraostrian has to perform it at least once in his/her life time. It takes place under the supervision of the mobad and it takes three days to perform. It is the cleansing ritual, inside as well as out. At the end of each day of fasting and prayer comes the ritual of ‘uniting with dog” as the highlight of each day. With a rope fasten to the dog, who is lead by those performing the ritual, one unites his/her soul with the dog. It is a pledge of faithfulness, devotion, steadfastness, love and purity. Nothing is above it.

My experience with bill clinton as stray dog, sick and needy, taught me the meaning of our ancient wisdom which fits into modern life as well. I learned that the best practice of love is for the sake of love, the best practice of recognizing our ability to love and to be good just for the sake of goodness. Days and nights of caring, nurturing and loving him, brought me the greatest joy, a joy I never thought existed, the joy of giving without expecting any return. It was through him and my unfailing devotion to him that I learned the meaning of kimiai-ist ajeeb bandegiye-pir-e-moghan.” کیمیائی است عجیب بندگی پیر مغان (What a strange magic, serving the tavern's wine seller). I learned the enjoyment of servitude.

When Mercutio, my first dog, died, devastated by grief, I stumbled over a burial place not only for her but for all of my loved ones. We all went to the lake in our nearby park. The weather was unusually warm that November 26, but there was no one in the park, just us. The sky was getting dark and the lights around the lake reflected over the calm water. The moon shone majestically over the lake. Two large swans appeared from behind the reeds. The scene was very picturesque indeed. We all cried, even Ginger was crying, and clinton was very subdued. We fed the ducks and geese and decided to leave, but the moon stared at us telling us something. I looked and I noticed that moon was walking with us. A thought passed through my mind. Why not bury him there in the moon? It would always be there and wherever I go, it would follow. And so I buried him there on the moon. I pictured him in the most beautiful memory I had from him and placed him on a chariot carried by thousands of white doves to the moon.

The splendid meadow in the moon now is the eternal home to all the loved ones who left us since then, and also many who had left us before. Shortly after Mercutio’s death, Ginger left us; and clinton followed not much later. We buried them all there in the same fashion. As a matter of fact, many of my friends and relative liked the convenience of the happy meadow up there as well as the idea of looking up and thinking their beloved is up there and looking down on them. It is difficult to look at the beautiful moon and not to smile or think of those loved one without joy.

They are with me everywhere, in New York, Paris, Strasburg, or Tehran. All I need is to wait for night to come and wish for a clear sky, and just look up to see their smiling faces.

Sometimes when I come home late, I look up and see the moon; I know they are up there looking after me, walking me home.

Two weeks before clinton died, another dog walked into our life. He is called Omar Khayyam, a beautiful mixed golden retriever and border collie. God bless him, he is a savage. I hope the miracle of love works before we take after him, but meanwhile, we rely on leash and muzzle.


Nazy said...

Mina Jan:

How very beautiful. I got goosebumps reading about your beloved dogs and their zest of life and obvious love for you and Evan. How fortunate are those who can enjoy a pet for the duration of his/her lifetime. I have had beloved pets whom for reasons having to do with changing continents of residence, have had to give to friends and strangers to keep and to look after. Their premature losses have left a void in me beyond all acceptable (Iranian) ways in which an animal is regarded and loved.

Your heart wrote this piece about those beings which would be inadequately described as "pets," and "animals." They were members of your family and your love for them is so apparent in every word of your post. I agree. They are in heaven, having a jolly old time.

Thank you so very much for your dedication of a piece about your beloved pets to me. I am honored and in unison with you in feeling love and affection for them. Thank you for the honor of associating me with something that meant so very much to you. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

سلام مینا خانم. من از وبلاگ نازی پیش شما آمدم. قصه’ خیلی قشنگی نوشته اید. سگی به نام بیل کلینتون! خیلی خندیدم، اما فهمیدم که این نام را از سر عشق گذاشتید نه تمسخر. ممنونم.


Sara D. said...

Beautiful piece...I feel such happiness every time I hear about people taking in and providing shelter and love to abandoned animals. Our little 3 year old Persian cat who was found as a stray with various illnesses and problems has now blossomed into a furry bundle of love and has brought so much extra joy to our lives that it's beyond measure, and every time we look at our little purring baby, we are thankful for the chance to share our lives with her.

Shideh said...

Thank you for the beautiful post. I have never really considered having pets, but your post really changed my mind. You write beautifully, and how true: "love seems easy at first ... vali oftad moshkel haa"

Daisy said...

I came across your blog because Nazy recommended. Usually I do not like to read long posts but I started ready this one and I did not stopped until I finished it. I like the style, sense of humour, originality and the wisdom embedded in your post. Thanks for sharing your idea and your memory with us.