What lies beneath...
If you were to chronicle the history of my family, one approach you could take is to anchor each section with the life of a dog. Our first dog was Dixie, a small lhasa apso/shitzu cross, who lived her short life by the Bruce Springsteen song, Born to Run. She died like she lived, getting hit by a car two short years into her life at the Kuhn household. She was followed by Daisy, the same breed, but much more likely to stay at home. Daisy lived with us for 4 years before we learned that cherry pits had enough arsenic in them to kill a small dog. That was a hard lesson to learn. Next came Miko, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who was a cuddle dog right from the get go. Her breed was created to serve as lap dogs to keep the aristocrats warm as they rode in their carriages. She wormed her way into our laps at every opportunity. Miko was a joy to have, though a bit barky, but she died at 8 years old from a heart condition, one of the characteristics of her particular breed.
After escorting a wife and 4 daughters through grieving over 3 dogs in 11 years I was not keen on getting another one. So I put my foot down, no more dogs! 18 months later Chester bounded into our house and our hearts. Chester is more of a mutt, 4 breeds all rolled into one. But he’s a very agreeable dog, and after a few years I’ll finally admit that I’m glad my wife and kids swayed me to welcome one more dog into our family.
One of Chester’s most endearing attributes is that he is, in my wife’s words, “the greatest road-tripper”. He loves to go for a ride in our van. Maybe we notice it because he is the opposite of Miko, whose van time always included breathing like she was hyperventilating interspersed with ear piercing whining. Needless to say she usually stayed home. But Chester is nothing but a delight to take in the van. He takes in the sights, or snuggles in on Angela’s lap and sleeps the miles away.
This past February Angela and I were driving home from Agassiz, about 20 minutes from home. Chester was snoozing on Angela’s lap as per usual. It was snowing and I was driving slowly, but somehow we hit some black ice and the van began to swerve. I did everything I could to correct it, but it was no use. We slide across the oncoming lane (thank God there was no traffic) and over the 12 foot embankment, the van flipping onto its side and landing with a thud.
After a moment we caught our breath and happily told each other that we were okay. Angela had held on to Chester, and after a little effort, we were able to climb out the back hatch and scramble up the bank to wait for a ride. Angela would find soon that she had a nasty case of whiplash and some soreness from the accident. I had a bruised hip and some marking from the seatbelt, but overall we were okay. Chester came through without a scratch. Things were good, and we spent the rest of the day being thankful for all that we had that we too seldom appreciate. Vans could be replaced. People could not. All was good.
Until Chester’s next road trip.
We noticed it as soon as we pulled out of the driveway. Chester stood at attention, eyes fixed on the road, shaking like a leaf. His whole body trembled, quivered, as if he had just come out of freezing cold lake. No amount of soothing, petting, or calm words could settle him. He whimpered as we drove, every sound reminding us how he wanted this to end. The accident had traumatized him. Even now, 5 months later, he still quivers for the majority of our drives.
What strikes me about this is the power of trauma. Chester can’t (obviously) verbalize why he feels like this. I’m not even sure what his little doggie brain can remember about the crash. But just the fear of what happened seeps into the present moment to terrorize him in an activity that he used to enjoy. No amount of comfort can alleviate the physical reactions that his brain is generating in response to an event that happened 5 months ago in which he suffered no physical harm. It’s a reaction that goes deeper than the conscious or rational mind.
I’m learning two things from this phenomena. First, sometimes my reactions come from places deeper than I can verbalize. There are hurts and fears that go below the level of rational thought. Those can only be healed spiritually, and I’m not taking about knowing things. This kind of healing happens below the level of thought.
Second, when others react I need to make space. There is a whole world of experiences they have of which I don’t even have a clue. They may not even have realize why they are reacting the way they are. It’s a good thing God loves us not because we deserve it. He is the only one qualified to work in the deep recesses of our hearts.
Chester is teaching me lots. Probably more than I even realize.