Another Dog Story



NOTE:  I just received a comment about this post I wrote 6 years ago and wanted to share it with you. The new book is coming along very well. I’ll keep you updated from time to time. XOXO

As I write this I’m agonizing over something that happened earlier this evening. During the summer I live in a remote, mountainous area with curvy, dangerous roads. This evening I was headed to town to attend a lecture by an eminent theologian when I came upon a huge, black-and-white shaggy dog standing in the middle of the road looking very lost and confused.

My first thought was to stop and help it.  My second, that it could be sick, rabid, mean, filthy, etc.  My third, that I really wanted to hear the lecture. As I slowly passed the dog I looked out my rear-view mirror. It was standing in the road forlornly watching me drive off. I felt as if it were saying, “Please help me.” I considered stopping. I drove on.

That look haunted me all the way into town where I discovered that the lecture had been rescheduled for two hours earlier and everyone had gone home. So I headed for the grocery store, arriving just in time to see the last two employees leaving. They close early on Sunday nights. My only option was to go home. As one who seeks meaning in everything, I wondered:  Was I being given a second chance to help the dog? I drove home more slowly than usual, scanning the roadside. If I saw it I would stop, look for a collar with a phone number, try to help.

Halfway home a teen-aged girl dressed in white staggered across the road and flagged me down. She had hit a big shaggy black and white dog which had run off howling, and her car had spun into a ditch. She was shaking violently and limping a bit, and there was a dark red globule of blood above her heart where the seat belt had bitten into her skin. This leg of the road has no cell phone service. While we tried to decide what to do, two more drivers stopped and one volunteered to drive the girl to the next town where she would call her father. I went looking for the dog. After searching along the road and in the woods below the embankment I left without finding it.

Back home I sat on the porch pondering these events. I realize they were not all about me; nonetheless, I can find meaning in them. The message I received was that I chose to listen to my head, which wanted to hear the speaker, instead of my heart, which wanted to help the dog.  Had I followed my heart the accident would not have happened. With that realization I saw a small, odd-looking lump on the deck and went over to inspect it.  It was a dead hummingbird. Symbolically, hummingbirds are spiritual messengers. The subtle message became a blaring headline: Woman’s Desire to Hear Wise Spiritual Words Trumps Spiritual Behavior!

After my parents divorced then my father died, being smart and “spiritual” became my major sources of comfort and self-esteem. But at what cost? I can write profound things about the meaning of religion and the importance of caring, but has my tendency toward intellectualization dulled my capacity for actually behaving with compassion?

I know I’m beating myself up over this and few would condemn me for a choice most of us have made, but the truth is, someone with more heart would have skipped the lecture and helped the dog. Had I done that it could be happily lying by my side right now where Bear used to snooze. Another dog, another death. Another thing to forgive myself for. At least I buried the hummingbird.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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0 Responses

  1. Very interesting symbolism to your story, to your life. You were longing for spiritual things, even that desire shines through in your desire to attend the lecture of the theologian yet the spiritual thing, the hummingbird is found dead on your porch. Your compassion allows you to put this little one in to the earth, giving it a honorable send off. You would have done the same for the dog, if you had found it. Or, maybe taken it to the vet. But, could it be that it was part of another’s spiritual journey for the day?
    Be kind to yourself! I think we are all called live in the moment, experiencing the things that are there. I am realizing how much of my life I have done the opposite because I have been so busy and otherwise distracted. Yet, just for this day, I will try again to do it. Thanks for the reminder!
    Blessings to you!

  2. Dear Brave Heart Raffa,
    There are so many choices one has to make. Most pressing are the choices that would have us hide when we’ve done something for which we are ashamed. Notice I did not say “wrong.” Right or wrong do not enter into the equation of your experience. And it could be said your desire to hear the lecture was not simply a desire to feed your head—you know very well you would have taken whatever was said there and wrapped it into so many words and sent them off to us—with the hopes of touching our hearts. You know very well you would have gleaned bits of wisdom and used them to help guide someone through their dreams. And so your choice to drive on—the choice, as you rightly say, so many of us would have made—could have been kept a secret. No one had to know. But there you go telling on yourself to the world. Some would call THAT your “only swerving,” to quote a William Stafford poem.
    I call it courage. Courage steeped in love and flowing from a depth of pain—over divorce, over the death of your father, over the countless times you’ve already beaten yourself up during the course of your life—you decided to share your dear, brave, vulnerable heart. And in doing so you send the message—“You do not need to hide from shame. You do not need to bear painful secrets alone. We are a human community.” Yes, Dear Brave Heart Raffa, what you did that night WAS follow your heart—even to fill your head—that IS following the heart—and doing so with courage—and what you did today was also follow the mind of your heart and today’s following took even more courage.
    Forgive me, but choosing to hear the spiritual words of the theologian WAS spiritual behavior—choosing to stop and help the girl in today’s age of weirdoes and violence—was spiritual behavior-your seeking the meaning of the night’s events and then sharing them with us—is spiritual behavior.
    Mind you I am not arguing with your conclusions, I am simply encouraging you to broaden your definition of spiritual—something I was taught just two years ago that I needed to do. And I know you did not write your post for attention or sympathy—I know you wrote it with the desire to help others. You know very well, you share it with the hopes of nudging those of us, like you, who seek comfort by filling the head, to rouse us to more compassionate action, but please know that filling the head IS a compassionate act. Especially when the hearer would not hoard the fruits.
    It is clear you live your life as a prayer. It is clear the windows on your sliding door leading to the porch are too clear—so put stickers or something on them to warn future birds. It is clear the lack of integrity and communication on the part of the theologian’s staff need tweaking. It is clear the pain you carry at the choices you made could not have been hidden—for you are a person with great heart—or you would never have shared your story.
    The message from the dog and the hummingbird, as I see it (and again, please don’t take this like I think your own take on your own experience is wrong)? There is death. There are lost souls in the world. There are people, like the teenager, who have deep lessons of soul to work through. And who knows how her experience that night will guide her to some great service? Who knows what child just ran through white fields of light to welcome his dear, shaggy dog on the Otherside?—the dog that wanted to find HIM—And who knows what lives will change as a result of your intimate, courageous admission of your painful act of heart?
    Yours in the blood on the brain,

    1. Dear Joseph,
      Your compassionate, thoughtful response brings tears. How very kind you are. Thank you for taking the time to share your healing words with me. I’m very touched and will reread this comment many times when I need to be reminded of its wisdom.
      Yours in the blood on the brain,

  3. Thank you for the kind words, Shannon,
    You are absolutely right, of course. “Be kind to yourself,” and “live in the moment,” are what I would say to others in similar situations, but they can be hard to remember in times of strong emotion. Jung said any strong emotion is a sign that your shadow is at work and that is when it’s hardest to stay conscious and treat yourself with tenderness. I can see and feel that now; it was still difficult when I wrote this the night before last.
    Thanks back to you for the reminder. I’m preparing for a hike with friends this morning. Just for this day I will live in the moment, experiencing all the things that are there without agenda or judgment.
    Love and blessings, dear friend,

  4. Jean, my first comment is about the writing quality of the post. You had me from the jump … I felt drawn in and couldn’t read it fast enough to discover how it all would conclude. The confluence of events (for me) is significant. If either the lecture was not rescheduled, OR if you knew about the rescheduling, then the entire timeline changes and none of this happens. So who or what is at work here and how will it affect your behavour and even ours as readers and witnesses. Don’t know the answer to the first question and I’ll take a stab at the second.
    The self-blaming thing is so easy to embrace and we always do it so well But you are right in saying most of us would have done what you did, especially when we have a commitment to be somewhere. But you were given a second chance when the teenager appeared and you tried to “atone” for your prior inaction by searching for the dog and helping the girl. To search in the woods late at night, whether out of guilt, compassion or both says something about your heart. Find the good in what you did that night!
    You wish it had a better ending (and so do we) but try to look at it as a teachable moment and a call for pause in our busy lives. It will no doubt alter our decision-making and force all of us to think the next time we are confronted with alternatives that test our free will. Our lives are a continuum of events that shape us many times over and the complexity of the human condition is surely too much to analyze scientifically…what we are left with is the spiritual interpretation, which becomes intensely personal with no wrong answer.
    Thanks for sharing a story worthy of a Rod Serling “Twilight Zone’ episode, which you related with raw emotion, vulnerability, and candor.
    I will repeat…keep writing this kind of subject matter…it’s more than good!

  5. ): This made me very sad.
    I have been carrying around my own guilt for the past couple of weeks for passing a dog on a side street on my way to work without stopping. Of course I was running late, but I’m always running late so that’s a lousy excuse. My other lousy excuse was that I didn’t immediately see a collar. I’m sure I could have come up with more excuses if I’d needed them. Since that day, I keep thinking that the dog I passed could have just as easily been one of ours. Why should I expect someone to stop for our pups, if I can’t be bothered to do the same?
    Thank you for reminding me that listening to my inclinations feels better than listening to the excuses.

    1. Dear Stefanie,
      Thank you for two very profound comments: “Why should I expect someone to stop for our pups, if I can’t be bothered to do the same?” and “…listening to my inclinations feels better than listening to the excuses.” Those are words of wisdom, my dear. Plus, you made me feel so much better knowing I am not the only one attending this particular pity-party! I’ll agree to give up the guilt over events like this if you will. Let’s both agree that if we learn the lesson we can let go of the guilt.

  6. Dear Jack,
    How kind you are! I don’t know if you can imagine how good your words make me feel. Everyone’s comments here today have been so helpful and I am so grateful.
    I thought the confluence of events was very significant too, I hadn’t thought about the fact that I was, indeed, given a second chance when I stopped for the girl. And the self-blame I felt over not stopping for the dog did effect my behavior 20 minutes later. So yes, it was a very teachable experience for me, and I appreciate your noting that it may well be for others too.
    And while the original lesson I got out of it took the form of self-blame, the wise and generous assurances of you and others here are showing me other, positive lessons that I must learn to embrace every bit as much as I’ve been hanging on to the guilt. One of the most important of these for me is that I am safe in sharing the truths of my soul here because my readers are unusually mature, understanding and caring people who will not judge me.
    My sincere thanks to you and all who read this blog.

  7. Wow. This is an unbelievable story. The reactionary animal layer of consciousness needs all our attention badly. You are sensitive to notice it (you see the dog’s need) and to be a part of its healing!
    I believe in you and what a wonderful ally you are! We all need to stay awake. Good reminder. Ann

  8. Dear Ann,
    Thank you for your astute interpretation of another possible meaning of this event, and thank you for believing in me, dear friend. You’re right. The symbolic meaning you suggest — that we need to give our fullest attention to our instinctual selves so as to heal them — applies not only to my personal psychological condition, but to all of us.
    Humanity is in the process of harnessing the energy of our primitive instincts and modifying them into creative uses that are socially helpful and personally meaningful. You and I are both trying to aid that process. I’m counting on you to help me stay awake.
    Doing my best to stay conscious,

  9. Wow!!! Life is very fast pace and sometimes we get caught up in all of the things we think we need to do. Sometimes it takes events such as this to stop us and make us think. There is no doubt you are a goood a compassionate person. Like one of the other replies the dog may have been a part of someone elses journey. Good story and thanks for writing it. It just made me stop and think and take more time to smell the roses.

    1. Thank you for your kind comment, Gunnar. I’m glad you found it to be of benefit to you. This experience has helped me slow down too.

  10. I just found a dead baby hummingbird in its nest outside my son’s bedroom window. A few times I had thought to go check on the nest since I hadn’t seen the mama for awhile. I ignored my heart’s knowing & followed my head instead & by the time I got to check on the nest baby bird was lifeless. Was weird to read this somewhat similar post &’feel so deeply the blaring headline for myself too. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability about behaving with compassion.

    1. Hi Izzi, I still remember that poor shaggy dog with pain and regret. But I’d forgotten about the hummingbird synchronicity until I just re-read this 6-year old post before responding to you. You know, I think we’re supposed to notice and feel the pain of things like this. I see them as necessary earth lessons that teach us the difference between ‘head’ spirituality and ‘heart’ spirituality. We’ve gotten the true message of religion wrong for so long….it’s not about correct belief, it’s about acquiring compassion. And experiencing our own pain is how we learn to care about others’ pain. We want to escape our pain so badly that we’ll do anything to avoid it, but that’s a sure way to kill our spiritual growth. A very bittersweet lesson. Thanks for writing and reminding me of that. Blessings to you.

  11. Thank you for sharing your experience and insightful interpretation of it so that we all might benefit from its lesson and deeper symbolic meaning. When you mentioned the dog, my first thought was that his/her black and white coloring might come to symbolize the inner duality we humans naturally experience, or possibly a choice of some kind, one which only *seemed* to exclude a third possibility.
    I’ve had similar experiences and similar regrets. With so much visible suffering all around, it’s sometimes hard to discern what the best choice is; sometimes I know but choose otherwise. What I appreciated most about your story was your willingness to acknowledge the truth of it so honestly, without rationalizing away its painful gifts and hidden blessings. When we forgive ourselves, we’re able to forgive others as well.
    I discovered your beautiful post after searching for the symbolic meaning of hummingbirds. I dreamed of one this morning, its delicate body a shade of deep blue, with violet colored wings that beat so quickly, flashes of white light flickered all around it, like tiny sparks of electricity. I watched in amazement as it slowed down then gently landed on my left hand, symbolizing the (receiving) side of the unconscious . . . which led me here, to something I needed to know. Your experience also serves as a reminder of how connected we all are to one another and to life itself.

    1. Hello, LB. I’m glad you found my blog and I thank you for your thoughtful observations. It seems we have very similar ways of viewing the world–i.e. psychologically and imaginatively–and processing the images that come to us. What an exquisite one your dream hummingbird is! It feels like a special gift, perhaps related to the third eye (intuition and imagination), and crown (inner and outer beauty and spirituality) chakras. My best wishes for your soul’s journey.

      1. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Jeanie. I’m glad to have found your blog and look forward to reading more. I agree, we do seem to share a deep appreciation for the symbolic and imaginative language of the unconscious, even when its messages are less than flattering! Authors like yourself (along with others who incorporate and refine the best of Jung’s psycho-spiritual ideas) have helped me to explore this language in much greater depth. My life is sometimes filled with so many synchronicities it can feel and flow more like a dream.
        Learning to interpret and more fully understand the messages has changed everything. I now recognize the potential in each and every meaningful ‘connection’ (including the more challenging ones), to teach me something valuable about myself. Nothing goes to waste, all is valuable.
        As a late-blooming, self-described ‘intuitive’ and untrained artist (both are more of a calling than a profession), your sense of the hummingbird’s symbolism makes perfect sense ~ thanks again!

  12. “My life is sometimes filled with so many synchronicities it can feel and flow more like a dream.” I know the feeling. You’re most welcome.

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