The Dog with a Bullet In Him

The Dog with a Bullet In Him December 18, 2023

Regular readers of this blog know how obsessed Jeanne and I are with our corgi Bovina. She’s a bit over two years old and runs the house with the ease and confidence of someone who knows that everything works together for her good, as I described in an essay last July.

What We Can Learn about Trust from a Corgi

Bovina is the fifth dog we have had over our thirty-five years together; not all of the previous four have been as comfortable in their own fur as she clearly is.

Two of our previous dogs were rescues, and it showed. Bean, our Boston terrier who was with us for several years, was very timid and wary around men, giving me a look like “I know you are going to kill me one of these days” on a regular basis. She spent the majority of her time when her mother was away in a corner of our dining room that I called “Bean’s condo,” her safe place out of the way of her scary dad. Our relationship got slightly better during the last couple years of her life when we discovered that she loved oranges. I shared my usual nightly orange with her and a small, flimsy bridge was built.

All Dogs Go To Heaven

Our dachshund Winnie lived with us as the middle child of a three-dog pack for several years, then spent the last two years of her life as the last dog standing by outliving her sisters. I described her in a blog post after she died a bit over two years ago as “an odd little animal.” Winnie was the embodiment of passive-aggressive, quick to hide under the bed when something unusual or out-of-the-norm happened, but equally quick to jump out of hiding and bite a stranger’s ankle if she or he surprised her. If she had been a human, she probably would have been on the spectrum.

Remembering Winnie: What Our Pets Teach Us About What’s Important

Jeanne and I always attributed Bean’s and Winnie’s peculiarities and quirks to the likelihood that they had suffered trauma and/or abuse at the hands of someone before they came into our lives. I thought of the two of them while reading an early chapter in Christian Wiman’s Zero at the Bone a few days ago. His family’s dog Mack, who “looks like a black Lab crammed into the body of a beagle,” is also a rescue and apparently has all sorts of behavioral and psychological issues that Wiman and his family—who clearly love Mack obsessively as all dogs should be loved by their humans—have learned to work with and adjust to.

Because of some troubling health issues, Mack was spending a couple of days at the vet; Wiman and his wife were shocked when they received a call revealing that, during the vet’s investigations of Mack’s issues, there was an unexpected discovery. Mack has a bullet in him. It was, of course, upsetting in the extreme “to think of some miserable man—because of course it had to be a man—taking aim at this utterly docile and probably mentally impaired dog and blasting away.”

What was really gut-wrenching, what left us both stunned and tearful in our kitchen the day we talked to the vet on the phone, was thinking about Mack carrying around this memento of that violent moment for all these years . . . And to think of that sweet odd dog all the while dragging around that unspeakable—in both senses of the word—pain.

Jeanne and I would have shed tears and have been similarly outraged had we received such news about Bean or Winnie. Jeanne is a dog lover extraordinaire—she took pictures on her phone without flinching of me getting thirty stitches above my eye after a bicycling mishap two summers ago, but she wouldn’t want to even be in the same building where something similar was happening to a dog.

Toward the end of this brief chapter, Christian Wiman brings everything together in a profound way.

There is not a person reading these words, there is not a friend or family member from whom you feel utterly estranged, there is not even a solipsistic and apparently unsalvageable man sitting in the White House ]Wiman wrote this prior to November 2020] who does not have, festering somewhere, a bullet in them . . . I feel sure there is some one pain to which every one of us is called to witness and perhaps ease.

Each of us is very good at making assumptions and drawing conclusions about why someone behaves the way that they do without ever considering that, like Mack, each person is carrying a bullet, a hidden wound perhaps inflicted years or decades earlier, that is hidden, that is secret, and that affects everything that person does.

So how does one bring the gospel, the love of Christ, to those with such wounds? Wiman considers the story from Luke of the woman with an issue of blood who hears of a travelling rabbi who heals people. “Maybe if I just touch him I’ll be healed,” she thinks. Wiman writes that,

I’ve always been intrigued by the story, but I’ve also felt a little remote from this woman with her issue of blood, at least until I looked down last month and saw a whole different aspect to the dog with whom I’ve shared a life for the past ten years . . . Sitting down to write these thoughts was the first time I have ever considered all the other people around Jesus when he healed that woman with the issue of blood. They, too, had their issues of blood. It’s a wonder Jesus didn’t shatter from the sheer pressure of all those unspeakable pains around him. But then, eventually, I guess he did.

Now, of course, we are the way that Jesus, that the divine, gets into the world. We are the vehicles of healing, even at times when we don’t recognize it.

I feel sure that there is some one pain to which every one of us is called to witness and perhaps ease . . . When suddenly you feel some power going out of you. Christ may be in us. But ours are the only hands he has.

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