Do not go gentle into that good night … rage against the dying of the light." —Dylan Thomas
On March 13, 2016, I awoke to an encore performance by the Northern California winter winds and rains ensemble. It was misty, gray and oh so soggy—my favorite kind of Sunday. Celtic blood flows through these veins. I feel very much at home on these days. I sat up and planted my two feet firmly on the laminate floor, rose slowly and headed downstairs toward the kitchen to reward my two most faithful companions and start my morning rituals. Coffee first. I had a short list of errands that I needed to accomplish that day, but would start out with a daily pilgrimage to one of the many beautiful parks that are available to humans and canines alike here in Concord, California.
I am an early riser. Very early—in the minority among my friends. I love getting to the park prior to all the other locals who arrive later, except for Karen the “caftan lady,” who passes out treats to all the dogs that come and visit. She usually beats me there. It was a day just like any other. Our target for the morning would be the beautiful Markham Arboretum that has a small creek running through it, just down the block from my apartment. As of late, it has become one of our favorite outing destinations.
You hear it all the time, those sayings that people repeat over and over again, like mantras, until they lose their meaning and become nothing more than abstracted sound and breath. Life is short. Appreciate life. It can be snatched away from you at any minute. Here today, gone tomorrow. I never thought it would happen to me. Yet it does happen to us, over and over again, and then we retreat back to that place, our “fort” of believing it won’t happen again. And of course it does.
Accidents happen. Life happens. Note the correlation here. We “lose” loved ones, pets, valuables to life’s random roulette wheel, consistently. And if we aren’t losing at that moment, you can bet that somebody else surely is and our turn will be coming back up around soon enough. Why then is it always a shock to our system when it happens? Ah yes, Denial—that river in Egypt.
I had been preparing, and struggling, with some content for an upcoming workshop that I was going to be teaching in April, titled Reclaiming Your Life After Loss. A walk with the dogs down near the creek in the cleansing rains would surely wash away the overcrowding of concepts piling up in my cerebrum. I really was beginning to become enamored with this daily habit in my new life since the passing of my partner to cancer 4 years ago (it is still as familiar as if it happened just yesterday). My goofy black lab Karma (my wild child), my sweet cream chihuahua PeeWee with his big brown eyes that drown you in their love, and yours truly—raced to the apartment complex carport and stuffed ourselves into my environmentally friendly, compact chariot in anticipation of our Sunday morning adventure. Little did we know that there was more adventure in store for us than we had ever requested or bargained for.
When we arrived at our destination there were no other vehicles in the parking lot. The rains most likely kept all but the hardcore at home in warmth and comfort. We traversed the familiar trails for a good 30 minutes and had yet to see another soul or canine. A false sense of security set in. I let Karma off her leash and allowed her the opportunity to fulfill her duties as a dog. It brings me such joy to watch her running through the tall grasses, chasing birds and squirrels. She would stop only occasionally to nibble on a particularly enticing reed or branch. Periodically, she would glance back at PeeWee and me for approval and I would shout “Go Karma!” She would run even faster with her tail wagging and her tongue billowing in the misty morning breeze, a big smile upon her face. She was my maestro, my professor of simplicity. I took my clues from her on staying present in the moment. She seemed to be a student of Ram Dass’ in that she had the “Be Here Now” down pretty good. Enjoy the simplicity of life she said to me as our eyes caught glimpses of each other while she ran joyously through the rains. I could almost hear her laughing with reckless abandon. PeeWee remained in my arms, watching unamused. He despised the rain, but didn’t want to miss a chance to get out in the fresh air. His leg had been bothering him lately and so he spent more time being carried then actually walking. He did his business, then stopped and glanced up at me—my cue to pick him up and cradle him as we walked and watched his crazy sister. This is the simplicity that Karma wanted me to acknowledge, right here, right now. “Out of your head and into your heart,” I whispered aloud.
I must confess, I was so caught up in the joy and beauty of the morning that I lost track of time and the fact that other people and canines were starting to arrive now. We rounded a corner onto a concrete path heading back to the parking lot, which was partially obscured by shrubs and overgrowth. As we did so, we were startled by a middle-aged couple with their 2 dogs on leashes. Karma was still not on hers. She is not the most obedient of dogs and runs hot and cold depending on her temperament. She is not an aggressive dog but can be unpredictable at times. When she spotted the dogs, she took off running toward them approximately thirty feet ahead of us. I gasped as she did, somewhat dazed and confused by the sudden shift in energy. I shouted her name and she came to a complete halt about halfway to the other dogs. I breathed a sigh of relief as she turned and slowly started walking back to me, where I had her leash waiting for her. As she did, one of the dogs growled loudly and lunged towards us, seeing Karma’s advance as an act of aggression. Suddenly, time stood still and everything shifted into slow motion. As the dog lunged forward the male owner was pulled forward by the dog’s brute strength. He lost his footing on the wet ground, slipped, fell and dropped the leash as he hit the damp earth. The dog proceeded to charge at us full force as I tried to grasp what was happening. As dread and fear pumped through every cell of my body, I had to do something to protect my beloved. All I could think to do was to get between Karma and the other dog. The shouting had already begun from the owners and from myself as the dog pummeled ever closer. I stepped in front as the dog came upon us and I was thrown to the ground as he lunged at Karma’s neck. She let out a blood-curdling yelp as the dog bit down with all it’s might. “NO, NO NO,” I yelled and pleaded.
As I pounded the dog’s snout, the owners were also yelling and pleading with the dog to let go. The howls, the screaming, the growling, the anguish, the distress, the sadness—all swirled together with the winds, the rains and the chill in the air. Everyone was exhausted and I have absolutely no idea how long it lasted. At one point Karma and I made eye contact and I was so distraught at my helplessness. I remember the thoughts screaming in my head: NO, Please not Karma too. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE NO!!!! I have been through enough I CANNOT LOSE HER TOO PLEEEEEEASE!!!!!! I CANNOT GO ON!!!!
I noticed that PeeWee was at my lap as I lay in the mud and the rain. Confused by the events, he was seeking comfort as he always does, in my lap. As I reached down to pick him up, it was then that I noticed my ring finger on my right hand was white and pointing east while all others pointed north as they should. I pulled PeeWee close to me and the pain became almost unbearable. It was shortly after this that for some reason Karma was released and the frightening event slowed to a halt.
One of the owners came over to check on me and Karma and walked us back to the car. I checked Karma’s neck but could not find any blood. Is that possible, I thought? The dog’s owners exchanged numbers with me and in spite of the difficult situation were very helpful and supportive. I was in shock and I knew I needed to get to a hospital as my finger appeared to be broken. I contacted a local friend by phone but couldn’t reach her. I decided that I needed to drop the dogs off at home, take care of myself first and then return to take Karma to the emergency vet’s office, it being Sunday. I drove myself to the hospital emergency room screaming and yelling in anger, pain, and disbelief all the way there. Haven’t I been through enough? Apparently not, I thought. Who are you? Why are you any different than anyone else on this earth? This is life baby. You are still alive and so is your dog. Be grateful! You can drive yourself to the hospital, you will be fine.
I made my grand entrance into the emergency room, dripping in rain and mud, a few splatterings of blood, and some scrapes and bruises for good measure. My finger was dislocated. They got it back in place, taped it up and sent me on my way. I returned home to find that Karma had quite a big gash on her neck but seemed relatively calm. I took her to the vet, where she spent the rest of the day and evening getting stitched and stapled.
“She was lucky,” the doc told me. "Infections from these kind of bites can often be fatal if they reach the vital organs."
We are lucky. It was not our time. Yet.