PSALM FOR A PUPPY

By John Thomas Tuft

I cannot remember a single day that I would call a happy one for my father. To the world, especially in the churches that he served, he appeared to be a paragon of puritanical protestant rectitude. I have spoken of him elsewhere in these stories so suffice it to say that as I watched him over the years spend hours and hours each week doing translations from Greek and Hebrew of the weekly sermon scripture passages, covering acres of yellow pads with his chicken scratch method of writing, working out the exegesis and hermeneutics (I promise, that’s the last time I will use those words) with furrowed brow and pious dedication, I slowly realized that his biggest fear in his preaching, pastoring and parenting, was in disappointing the God he had created in his head. Although he introduced all of his children to the joy of reading and imagination through The Chronicles of Narnia, his own personal reading seemed to consist solely of a well-worn blue hard cover RSV New Testament. And although he immersed himself in the flavedo of desired meaning within that blue rind morning, noon, and night, I can honestly say that his life seemed to be dominated by fear. Fear that made him angry. That in the end, everything said and done, God was going to be angry with him. No matter what. Period.
When he died in 2017 at the age of 99 in an assisted living facility, my youngest daughter had to sign me out of a similar facility where I lived at the time to bring me to Pennsylvania for his memorial service. My sister, Susan, had died seven years earlier, my mother six years before. Dad had fallen and broken his hip and decided to forego all nourishment, only palliative care, while his body wrapped up this journey over the next three weeks. I sometimes wonder if that was his final way of telling the Big Bastard in the Sky, “You want me suffering to be deserving of your goodness? Watch this!” Six years on now, I wish that I could introduce him to Dory. And maybe see him immersed in the psalm for a puppy.
I first met Dory, a fourteen-pound bundle of toy poodle, or Bichon, depending on whom you ask, with curly white hair and a tail that vibrates like the tuning fork of her feelings, about a year ago when I lived in Roanoke, Virginia. She immediately recognized a fellow snacker and treat-hound in yours truly.  She is always up for yet one more viewing of the Jason Bourne movies or a midday nap, whichever is more needed at the moment. She recognizes the halting gait of this fellow traveler due to the slings and arrows of life as we go out three or four times a day in the loveliness of Forest, Virginia, and adjusts her pace accordingly on our walks. She takes her place at the foot of the bed when we turn in for the evening, but at some point each night fulfills her sworn duty to trip the light fantastic across the quilt and take her place beside my head on the pillow. A pillow meant for one human head, mind you.
Whenever I head for my power recliner, morning, noon, or evening, Dory rushes to position herself at the proper distance to jump onto the slowly rising footrest and ride the rest of the way up. Then she promptly takes up her position on the overstuffed right arm of the chair, there to rule over all that she sees. If I walk away from the chair, she casually offers to keep an eye on it while I’m elsewhere. I must check the area carefully before leaving the room as muffins, cookies, and pop tarts have been known to disappear in my absence. She swears there are renegade racoons who are responsible yet deserving of remission for their sins. While I write this, she comes and flops underneath the desk, fitting her head between the legs of the office chair. Being a muse is exhausting. When she looks at me with those big, dark eyes I can see that she knows that she is loved, appreciated. Happy. And when she looks into mine, she sees the same. It is the puppy psalm.
Lately, though, Dory has been limping. Not yet six years old, something has gone wrong. Each day requires more naps. Her belly is swollen, and red bruises mysteriously appear on it. Her white hair is thinning at an alarming rate. When I lift her onto the bed at night, instead of playing with me on the edge of the bed, she finds her spot at the foot and remains there throughout the night. When I sit in my chair, she limps over and asks to be lifted up to her rightful place beside me. In the mornings, I lift her down and she makes her way out to the coffee station and takes her seat on the edge of the carpet. Awaiting the special treat of wet food. With her pills for the pain mixed into it. We know how each other has to deal with pain. The psalm for a puppy includes the sharing of the pain, as well as the happiness.
Her bone marrow cannot make enough red blood cells any longer. The pain meds help her to be able to jump up at my legs when I come through the door after physical therapy. Six medications are now down to three, strictly for palliative care. I lift her onto our chair, and she manages to deliver a few puppy kisses in my beard. We are friends. We are fellow travelers in this life. We share a love for her mistress. Maybe she should be the one to whom we sing the psalm for a puppy. After all, she is the one who brought us together. I don’t know. What I do know is that I am happy…
Words are magic and writers are wizards.