By John Thomas Tuft

She stands in her wrap-around apron by the stove, adding a “pinch of this and a squiggle of that” to the steaming pot. “I learned to cook from my mother,” she chuckles, “but anytime I ask for a recipe of hers, she just says ‘oh, I didn’t write it down. I just add ingredients til it looks right.’” She shakes her head. “What’s a body to do? If she did send me a recipe, mine never tastes like hers. I’d ask about it and she’d say, ‘well, I might have left something out. We all need secrets.’” She taps the spoon on the edge of the pot. “Don’t that beat all? Didn’t want me cooking better than her!” She gives one last stir. “This looks about right. Bring that pie shell over here, Johnny, and I’ll dip this up.” One hand on her hip now. “We all need secrets. That’s what she said. Here, you can scrape out the filling from the pan and lick the spoon.” No secret there.

What’s the difference between a secret and a mystery? Both reference something that we ourselves do not know. The secret is the ingredients missing from the recipe. The mystery is how the concoction holds such power over me. Making a cream pie means knowing the basics of a cream pie. Making an unforgettable, drive a couple hours for a piece, marvel at it enough to write stories about it, means knowing the mysteries of making cream pie. And of course, I’m talking about chocolate, what else?! No secret or mystery there, people. I left seminary full of the wonders of examining the paradoxes of faith. Slap the word mystery in front of any of faith’s big questions and you sound thoughtful and deliberative. And then you start to wonder, maybe God and Bible-thumping folks and other theological types didn’t give us the whole recipe. Maybe…

As I write this, beside me is the now empty cage for the puppy. After they inserted a drain in her hindquarters to help with the buildup of fluids, she could not be on the bed with us. She became excessively thirsty, and it was hard to keep her water bowl filled. Only six years old, her pain level rose, and she just could no longer be the puppy she wanted to be. She could no longer jump up on my easy chair on her own to ponder the facileness of those who do not realize the power and necessity of treats. When I returned from physical therapy, having the audacity to be gone for a whole hour, she could no longer greet me by throwing herself at my legs, pawing at my knees to communicate the urgency of returning to scratching her ears. On the chair, of course, pondering treats. And when she came and threw herself down at my feet under the desk while I wrote, when she got up she was unaware that she left a puddle behind her. Life is really kind of simple. I assumed no indignity and neither did she.

It was time to consider walking the puppy Green Mile. It did not require soul searching or weighing mysteries and secrets. It required compassion. First and foremost. The waiting room was filled with dogs shepherding their owners through various stages of anxiety and consternation at life’s vagaries. The veterinarian looked like a Hobbit, a slightly bemused and a bit confused, Bilbo Baggins. Or perhaps more of a Thorin Oakenshield. I don’t know.  We could try stronger meds, or we could say goodbye, let her go. We chose the latter. No mystery, no secret. Just compassion that saw the benefit of a paradox beyond our own needs. Two shots of sedatives barely made her yawn. Then the injection that went right for her heart. With a small yelp, she was gone. And we cried.

Maybe she was off to The Shire. Across the Rainbow Bridge. Maybe she found John Coffey, like the drink only spelled differently, so they could both delight in being free of pain. Such are convenient ways to construct our imaginations in order to deal with the finality of grief, mourning the loss that is all too real. Which is perfectly fine and normal for us humans to do. It is one of the recipes that get us through. We came home to an empty house, a home that will whisper her name for many days to come. Because that is how love affects us. That is certainly not a secret. We sat on the porch in the summer evening breeze eating chicken wings and telling good stories about her. That is certainly not a mystery.

But…what is a mystery is how we love, suffer loss, pain, and grief, and decide to love again. Lillie came home the next day to show me pictures of inexcusably adorable puppies waiting at the Animal Shelter. Waiting for what? Why, for love, of course. How much of faith is simply adding ingredients until it looks right? There is no hiding what the main ingredient shall be, though, is there. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go scrape the pan and lick the spoon. It’s that simple.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.