Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Day They Put Old Dixie Down

I went the first 38 years of my life without ever owning a dog.

Then, in 2003, Dixie came into our life. 

I had always been a cat person.  When Gena and I married, part of her dowry was Doremi, who became a part of my family until he died in 2001.  Shortly after his passing, we got two new kittens, Simon and Garfunkel.  We lost Garfunkel in early 2011, and we had to have Simon put down two weeks ago.  That was hard.

But it was no comparison to today.

I am out of town, just as I was two weeks ago when the decision was made about Simon.  But when I left home this weekend, I knew.  Dixie, now 11 years old, more or less, was clearly not well.

In the fall of 2003, we knew that my parents' dog Smokie was going to come live with us for a while until my folks could move to Texas.  Our family was at the State Fair of Texas, and we saw an exhibit hosted by the Humane Society.  The kids (and Gena, no doubt) convinced me that Smokie would need a friend, and a big blond mutt the Humane Society folks had named Josie seemed to take a real liking to me.  OK, she was crazy about our whole family, but I always knew she had a special affection for me... trust me on this one. We ended up signing the papers, and for the first time in my life, I was a dog owner.  It took a day to handle the details, and the next day I drove to Dallas and drove her (now named Dixie by family vote) home to stay.

Dixie grew into a huge dog.  I loved to tell friends, when they asked her breed, that she was "half golden and half pig."  Despite her size, she thought she was a lap dog, leaping onto any member of our family who sat down.  She was well behaved, loyal, loving, and friendly.  She was all those stereotypical things I had always heard (and never really believed) about a family dog.  I was smitten.

A few years ago, our family added yet one more pet, Sophie the dachshund.  Dixie and Sophie took to each other immediately, a female canine version of Mutt and Jeff.  Walking the two of them was an adventure and a pleasure.

About a year and a half ago, it became clear that the elderly Dixie could no longer jump up on our bed, but she seemed perfectly happy to sleep on the cushioned chair at the foot of our bed.  A week and a half ago, she could no longer get on the chair, sleeping instead on the floor.   Through it all, she was loving and seemed happy, if slower to get up.

By Sunday, when I left home, it appeared that her legs barely could hold her up.  She would lie down to eat.  Having no personal experience with this kind of thing, I did not know know for sure... but I knew.  I did not use the word "good-bye," exactly, but I made sure to spend some time with Dixie before I left town.  This morning, Gena and the girls took her to the vet.  The word came back quickly - cancer.  At least two tumors.  At her age and weight, Dixie might well not survive any kind of surgery, and surgery would most likely reveal still more tumors.  It would not be curable.  The end was here.  A painful death surely awaited unless our family exercised responsible pet ownership to end her suffering.

As I was out of town, it fell to Gena, who (with some logical help from the girls) made the right decision.

I won't see Dixie again. 

As I say, I have always considered myself a cat person.  I made fun of "Turner and Hooch" as a "silly boy-and-his-dog movie."  I have lost cats before, one as recently as two weeks ago.  This is different. I sit here, far from home in a Hilton hotel room, and grieve.

I don't believe that dogs have souls.  I don't know if or how we will have pets in eternity.  But I know that there is an empty place that I have never before experienced.  I know now what it means to lose a dog.  All those friends before who have gone through this with absolutely no empathy from me - well, now I understand.

August 21 will always be for me, with apologies to The Band and Joan Baez,  the day they put old Dixie down.  I am better for having known her, and I will miss her.  That seems awfully silly for a grown man to say, but I am guessing that you dog lovers understand.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Oh No! Another Chick-Fil-A Blog!

I know, you really do not want to read about this anymore.  Whatever you believe, you have settled on it before now.  Another post is not going to change your mind.

I agree.  I promise not to try to persuade you that Dan Cathy was right or wrong.

But I have some other observations that I hope will resonate.

First, almost everyone agrees on the free speech issue.  The mayor of Boston was just wrong, and he quickly realized it.  Governments in this country do not get to keep otherwise legitimate business owners out of town solely because of their beliefs, their religion, or what they have said in an interview.

Second, almost everyone agrees on the love issue.  Yes, there has been hatred spewed (on both sides, I might add), but the overwhelming sense I get is agreement that God calls us to love everybody.  We can disagree on what love requires of us, but the accusations from either side that the other side is hateful are, by and large, unfounded.

Third, neither the free speech issue nor the love issue has anything to do with how most people have reacted.  If you choose to boycott the franchise and I choose to eat there, both of us have that right.  Cathy's speech does have consequences in the marketplace, and while the constitution restricts how the government reacts to it through the First and Fourteenth Amendments, you and I have no such restrictions.  Loving Dan Cathy requires me neither to agree with him about gay marriage nor to buy his sandwiches; loving homosexuals does not require that I agree with the social movement in favor of legalized gay marriage or that I must join the boycott.

Fourth, seeing the boycott shoe on the other foot has been ironic.  In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention announced what would be an eight-year boycott of all things Disney because of perceived pro-gay policies of the Walt Disney Company.  Then, a mere 15 years ago, it was the religious conservatives trumpeting a boycott as an appropriate free market expression and media liberals condemning the idea as high-handed and foolish.  Today, the arguments are the same, but the proponents have switched sides.

Fifth, the world has changed.  Comments like those made by Cathy would not have caused a ripple ten years ago.

Sixth, social media and the issue of homosexuality combine to bring out the worst in a lot of us.  You know this yourself from the Facebook postings you have read over the last week, culminating yesterday - Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day - with postings from Christians criticizing other Christians for buying chicken sandwiches for lunch instead of sending those three or four bucks overseas to feed a starving child.  (I assume that the people who posted that sentiment fasted as they sent their own money overseas, but I digress.)  I have read posts from both sides of the issue that have been rude and demeaning.

Seventh, many people on both sides of this issue honestly do not understand how people can disagree with them.  I read one blog that compared, with tongue only slightly in cheek, the supporters of traditional marriage with people who believe those commercial cows really don't know how to spell.  The smugness of the "learn to think" posts are matched by the moral superiority of the "God-said-it-I-believe-it" posts.

Finally, I am struck by the number of Christians on both sides of this issue.  I am struck by the number of conservatives on both sides of this issue.  I am struck by the number of liberals on both sides of this issue.  Gay marriage is a controversy that crosses normal boundaries.  Christians can believe that homosexual activity is wrong but that the government should stay out of it.  Other Christians can believe we have no place calling anyone's choice to love someone else sin and yet not take a stand on what they believe is a social and political, but not religious, issue.  A social conservative and a social liberal can both believe that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman and that government intrusion to expand that definition is simply illogical.  Political liberals and Tea Partiers can all believe that domestic partnerships or other legislative creations are sufficient and that we do not need to use religious terms like "marriage" to define any social relationship.

There is a lot for all of us to learn.  Regardless of what happens with gay marriage, and irrespective of how many chicken sandwiches you do or do not eat this month, this tempest will not stay in a teapot.  How we communicate with each other, what we really mean by high-minded concepts like love and tolerance and freedom, and the role that religious belief and morality really play in the public sphere are all at issue.  I hope that my conservative friends can allow people with whose behavior and beliefs they disagree to coexist with them.  I hope that my liberal friends can allow people with whose behavior and beliefs they disagree to coexist with them.  I hope that all of us can widen our views enough to find a way to hear - and not try to dictate - the voice of God.