I was snoozing quietly in my basket the other day when I overheard Them discussing an opinion voiced by Pope Francis. Apparently, he was comforting a little chap who’d just lost his best (doggy) friend. Our pets go to paradise, said the pope. Immediately, a storm broke out all over t’internet, with some arguing along with Aquinas that dogs don’t have souls so can’t go to heaven and the pope is a heretic and deserves to roast in the fires of hell, and others asserting equally roundly that the pope should define it as an article of faith that dogs do go to heaven as they often live better lives than humans do. I’m not sure where My Lot stand. They tend to get all theological and invoke words like ‘mystery’ and ‘transcendent reality’ and add lots of qualifiers and stuff.
Of course, it is all quite simple, really. Dogs were created so humans could learn the importance of values like love and fidelity, which they are not always good at. We teach little humans important things like eating everything on their plates and sleeping soundly wherever they happen to be. We teach old humans they are infinitely loveable and delightful to be with. We teach the middle-aged ones the importance of fresh air and exercise, and you’re never too creaky to have fun. I don’t know about heaven up above, but I do know that humans could make life on earth a bit more heavenly if they all tried to be more dog — live in the moment, and be grateful for everything. That’s not a bad message for Advent, is it? Be More Dog.
Leaving aside the snarky remark one of Them made, to the effect that I don’t have a mind, just two brain cells to deal with the important questions of food and sleep, I think it’s time I gave you my perspective on world events. After all, although I live in a monastery, I’m not ‘cloistered’ in the way most people use that word, and with my senses ever on the alert for prospective food supplies (postman, visitors, etc), I think I can safely say I am well up on what is happening.
It is quite clear that the world is going to the cats. Those who are not slumped in front of television sets watching some ball game called the World Cup are out and about murdering one another. When I asked BigSis what she thought about the Middle East, she looked grave and said from North Africa to Iraq, there is trouble. Israelis and Palestinians are fighting one another and may soon plunge the whole region (and perhaps the West, too) into all-out war. There is a credible report that ISIS has obtained 40Kg of radioactive material that could be made into bombs. If you look further afield, the continent of Africa isn’t doing so well, either. There is a darkness in Nigeria and the Central African Republic that makes people live in fear.
To me, all this is rather strange. I don’t understand why humans can’t live peaceably with one another. I bark at Rusty, a Ginger Tom who visits my place occasionally, but only when he’s outside and I’m inside. If we meet on the path, we give each other a wide berth. I respect him; he respects me. We have learned that it isn’t worth getting into a scrap. Why can’t humans do the same? After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that it has to do with memory. Humans won’t let go of their history. When I said this to BigSis she said she would want to nuance that statement (a polite way of disagreeing with me, I think: she can be ever so diplomatic when she tries). She said that humans are often reluctant to let go of a particular version of their history, one that validates whatever position they have taken up in the present. So, for example, both Palestinians and Israelis see themselves as victims and, to some extent, have grounds for thinking that. But it’s not the whole truth, and unless or until someone can break the mould and do something far braver than shooting at one another, conflict will continue.
I suppose that may be so. As a small hound, I know I can’t do much except show forgiveness and tolerance in my daily life and put my paws together for others. But doing the little I can is important. Big changes begin with small ones.
Have you noticed, as I have, a certain tendency among the godly to use Latin where plain English would be much better, and often, alas, using it incorrectly? I don’t mind people coming up to me and saying, ‘Salve!’ (though ‘hello’ would do just as well). I do wince if they say, ‘Salvete!’ as though my name were legion; while greeting me with an ‘Ave!’ makes me tremble in my socks, for reasons they are probably blissfully unaware of. But being wished a happy birthday ‘ad multis annos’ sets my teeth on edge, and the muddling of genders and case endings in other phrases induces apoplexy, especially when I see them on Twitter and Facebook. Latin is a beautiful language, and deserves to be used intelligently. I don’t quite share Christine Morhrmann’s view that it is the perfect liturgical language (Greek would always get my vote), but it is for me the language of prayer, of poetry and history, and I’m very glad I was taught to read, write and speak* it at an early age. It has made me realise what I don’t know — always a good reason for sticking to English, and even there I sometimes have problems, as the comments section of this blog will testify (sigh).
My simple rule is this: avoid Latin tags if you can, but if you must use them, make sure you’ve got them right. Otherwise, as Bro Duncan PBGV was heard to say this morning, Cave monialem!
*Yes, reader, I was taught to speak Latin by a Spanish Latin mistress who gave her classes in Latin from start to finish. I couldn’t manage it now.
Last night I stayed up to welcome BigSis home after her return from York. I thought it was very sneaky of her to leave on Monday morning while I was having my post-brekkie nap, so I intended to do a dignified but distant kind of welcome, the sort that says, ‘I forgive you’ but means, ‘I’m putting you on probation: don’t you DARE do that again, or else!’ Well, you know me, once she walked through the door, my tail went into orbit (so much for dignified) and though I did manage to look soulful (my default look), I forgot about the distant bit. Then she said, ‘Hello, old rat-bag. Am I forgiven then?’ and something I didn’t quite understand about how there is joy among the angels when a sinner repents and is reconciled to God, which I think means that forgiveness is really rather wonderful and transforms everything, and my waggly tail is a good image of the sheer joy there is in heaven when humans come to their senses and are reconciled with God and one another; and then there was something about how stupid humans are to store up resentments, which is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die. I forget the rest, ‘cos I was really just pleased to have her back, but don’t tell her or she will become proud, and that is not good for her humility, not good at all.
I think I might do less of the dignified and distant in future and settle for forgiveness, plain and simple. It’s more fun, and if you try it, you may get a surreptitious bikkie or two like me.
P.S. BigSis (Digitalnun) says I’m to get off her keyboard NOW. She will be blogging tomorrow.
BigSis (a.k.a. Digitalnun) is speeding towards York for a conference, so I have commandeered the keyboard. Please don’t tell on me, ‘cos she may think I’ve been taking liberties. I take them all the time, in fact, but she doesn’t realise: she just thinks it’s my doggy nature . . .
Dogs are often described as ‘man’s best friend’, which is true, but I sometimes think you humans haven’t got a clue about friendship and what it really means. You always seem to be looking for something in return. Your friendship is often just a sophisticated kind of cup-board love, which is what you accuse us of. How often do you see on Facebook some post saying ‘we’ll see who actually reads this’, and you get to the end and there’s something or other about you won’t be friends any more if you don’t post this to your own timeline. Kibble and cats! You humans need to be more like us dogs. If you are friends with someone, you ask nothing in return except to be a friend; and being a friend isn’t difficult. You don’t need to give lots of bikkies (though I must admit, I’m always glad when a few come my way); you don’t need to lavish lots of ‘quality time’ on your friend (I’m happy just to be in my basket when They are around); you don’t need to murmur sweet nothings (I don’t mind being called ‘you old rat-bag’, honest I don’t: it’s the tone that matters); you just have to be ready to love them.
Call me quixotic if you like, but I am thinking of starting a New Movement for the Advancement of Canine Values. Friendship will be top of the list. I wonder how you humans measure up to us dogs, eh?
In due place to forget one’s wisdom is sweet, says Horace, so I have prevailed upon Digitalnun to allow me a guest post on her blog. I think the snow has addled her wits (not that she has many) because she agreed without demur. Of course, it could just be that she wants a little holiday from blogging. You can’t tell with nuns. They keep things under their wimple and look at one over the tops of their spectacles in a quizzical way. It’s terribly ham, but what can one expect? They never go to the theatre or watch a good film.
Anyway, back to my favourite subject, me. I joined the community at the same age as St Bede, viz. five years old, on my return from Sweden, where I had been sent on a missionary journey of sorts. My year in Sweden taught me a great deal about snow and ice, for both of which I have an affection, but also reinforced in me the desire for a more solitary, monastic existence. My people knew I would never again be happy in their kennel, for I had known the delights of woodburning stoves and forest walks. Happily, they had just received an enquiry from some nuns wanting a male dog as companion to one of their older community members who was becoming housebound. It was impressed upon me that this would be no sinecure. I would be the monastic porter, the wise old man at the door of the monastery, whose duty it is to welcome everyone; and though I would have a comfortable bed to sleep in because of my age, I could not expect any ‘spoiling’. Fortunately, I have a soft spot for the ladies, so I leaped at the chance.
I have many wonderful children and grandchildren, including the fabulous Jilly (reserve Best in Show at Crufts last year and this year’s Top Dog All Breeds — she takes after me, obviously), but was becoming less and less attracted by the endless round of shows and ‘engagements’ elsewhere. I had had enough of fame. Now I desired stability, a regular routine and the comfort of the same fireside. The monastery gave me what I craved. I soon discovered a genuine taste for religion, especially since it meant I could stretch out on the only comfortable rug in the house (the one in front of the altar) while they chanted the Divine Office. I resented being booted out for Mass but found compensation in the library with a fire and supplementary biscuit or two. I don’t know much about the Song of Songs, but, apparently, one look from my kohl-rimmed eyes would melt the sternest heart. Guests would plead for me, and the nuns would give in!
To my great joy, we moved to Hereford last year and now, not only do I have some beautiful country to roam over, I have a woodburning stove to lie in front of when the weather is foul. My nuns are well-trained and know exactly how I like my kibble and chicken-and-rice when my digestion is a bit sensitive. (Don’t forget, I am of French origin: I won’t eat anything tinned, sacre bleu!) There were a few little problems about managing to get my bed placed where I wanted, but by dint of stretching myself outside Digitalnun’s doorway for a few nights, I achieved my aim. Whether it was my paw or the hand of another (allegedly, Quietnun) that opened the door, I shall not say. It is enough that I’m allowed a spot all my own, right by the radiator.
I am ten now and have been with the nuns five years. My life has all the serenity one would associate with the cloister. I am very quiet, except when I give tongue (that’s houndspeak for the lovely basset profundo which is my natural note). I eat well and enjoy much freedom on this side of the grille, so to say. I give a superb example of humility to all (not difficult with legs my size) and spend much of my time with my eyes closed, meditating on the Four Last Things: supper, walkies, tummy tickle and bed. I am a good example of the alternative name for my breed: the Happy Hound. In short, I am Duncan, the monastery PBGV, a smalle hounde, such as Chaucer wrote about, but a true monk at heart, one who demonstrates the truth of the words, Ego dormio, sed cor meum vigilat. (I sleep, but my heart keeps watch.)
We shall soon have been here three months. Visitors remark how much we’ve done in that time, but for us the days pass in something of a blur. We moved during the height of the grass-growing season so have been constantly dodging rainstorms of almost tropical intensity in order to keep the lawns mown. Friends from Wantage came and worked terrifically hard in the garden to clear many of the ‘smaller’ leylandii and some rather intrusive yuccas before starting on the proposed vegetable plot.
In the process some lovely bits of agricultural archaeology were unearthed. Now all we need are half a dozen strong men or women to help us move them to more suitable places! (The photo above shows an agricultural sink unearthed in the prospective vegetable plot. It will join our cider mill, cider press, stone horse trough and cartwheels to remind us of the barn’s origins.)
Accompanied Bro Duncan on a long walk this morning. We set out under Constable skies, along the edge of fields green with wheat, over pasture studded with ancient oaks, the sun just breaking on the Brecons. The wind whipped and tugged nosily at our coats, but in the sudden calm that descended from time time we heard innumerable larks. Sadly, there are no red kites, lapwings or yellowhammers here, or not that we could see, but there are lots of sparrows and swallows and various kinds of finches to keep us on our bird-spotting mettle. A fox crossed our path but obviously didn’t think we were any kind of danger.
The cattle are a constant joy: pure-bred Herefords (my favourite from of old) and crosses, but I haven’t a clue what kind of sheep are kept here — they are long-legged and multi-coloured, very unlike the mules we have been used to. We shall explore further when the unpacking is done and we have more time, but for now we can say that this is a lovely place to be.
Sheep and Bird Update
We have identified two of the sheep breeds, Welsh Badger-Faced sheep and another Welsh mountain variety, but the third continues to baffle us; and yesterday we saw a yellowhammer at close quarters.
There are some people who regard their dogs as spiritual directors. Even though I am English, I think that is going rather far — not because I do not honour Bro Duncan but because, as readers of this blog are aware, I am a little sceptical about spiritual directors in general, believing that the needful gift is rare. Bro Duncan does very well as a watchdog for the community and fulfils the role of porter admirably, greeting everyone and being especially attentive to the very old and very young, with whom he has a special affinity. (Not surprising given that his own joints are beginning to creak, and standing just 15 inches high at the shoulder, his world view has always been that of a little child). He is a very companionable dog, very gentlemanly and discreet. At least, I thought he was.
Recently he spent a day in kennels getting a haircut and returned home a different dog. He looked better, he smelled better, but his behaviour! For the first time in his life he decided that the visitors’ sofa was exactly what he needed for chilling out (he is not allowed on furniture); instead of pleading with kohl-rimmed eyes for a share of the visitors’ biscuits or dancing on his hind legs with supplicating front paws, he attempted to intercept the movement from plate to mouth; worst of all, he looked very smug about his antics.
It is clear we have a delinquent dog on our hands and are like the parents of teenagers, wondering what will happen next and asking ourselves where have we gone wrong. For once, the Rule of St Benedict is scarcely a help. However, I know we must be patient with our errant brother because there is one lesson that, spiritual director or no, he has always taught us: everyone is his very best friend. I can’t help wondering whether, if we human beings made fewer distinctions and treated everyone as, potentially at least, our very best friend, the world would be a kinder and more pleasant place.
(Note: if you are old enough to enjoy a little silliness, Bro Duncan has his own Twitter account, @BroDuncanPBGV.)