Even the most casual reader of this blog will have gathered that I am a bit soppy about dogs, one in particular. Today is the first anniversary of Bro Duncan PBGV’s entry into Beyond. We got on very well, he and I, but this post is not going to be a sentimental trip down memory lane. He was too dignified a dog for that — even though he was a PBGV. No, this is about the mystery of Beyond, from where he confidently continues to blog and tweet, although he sensibly says very little about his present mode of existence.
Dog owners (and for all I know, cat and guinea pig owners) tend to get a little teary when it comes to the death of their old companions. There is much talk of crossing rainbow bridges and running free. I understand that perfectly. We do not want death to be the end. We may have no belief in an afterlife for ourselves, but for our pets, who have given us so much joy in their short lives, there must be something more.
I know the Thomists will disagree and assert that animals do not have souls and therefore their brief existence on earth is all there is, but I prefer to think of the immensity of God and his care for even the smallest of sparrows. Could such a God snuff out for ever and ever the life of a creature who had given and received such love and affection? I rather doubt it. In fact, although I can’t conceive of Beyond in material terms, I have a little private heresy according to which nothing is ever lost or destroyed, although it is necessarily changed. I would like Bro Duncan PBGV to be part of that changed existence, just as I would like the dinosaurs to be. (Imagine! Seeing a live dinosaur for the first time! But I digress.)
Today there are thousands of people in Britain grieving the loss of someone dear to them. Many cannot express their sense of loss save in extravagant gestures and the conventional phrases that reveal their inadequacy as soon as they are uttered. We cannot really mourn, cannot really allow our grief or sadness to be healed, as long as we do not let the mystery of Beyond touch and transform our lives. For me, as a Catholic, there is the pleasant prospect of purgatory and a final purification. I do not have to worry about the immediate prospect of heaven or hell for those I love; and I have the beautiful and meaningful rituals of the Church and of the monastic order to surround the harsh reality of death. They are a huge comfort because they help to make sense of what might otherwise seem to be sheer negativity. They point to what is not yet by proclaiming the value of what is and what has been with an honesty and lack of sentimentality I find refreshing.
For our pets there are no rituals, no solemn ways of acknowledging their going from us, so we make little jokes and cry our hearts out among the tomato plants or try to be ‘frightfully British’ about it all. I like to think that that is part of their gift to us. They make us realise the supreme dignity of being created human, the extraordinary graces bestowed on us by a loving God who has seen in us the lineaments of his Son, Jesus Christ. What I call the mystery of Beyond is something that surrounds us from our first moments of conception. It is our natural environment, so to say. We pass from one degree of glory to another, and although death is painful, it is the gateway to a fuller life and a happiness that has no end. Where Bro Duncan PBGV fits into this, I do not really know, but I am as sure that he is part of it as I am sure that the grass is green beneath my feet and the brilliant blue skies of Herefordshire are over my head.