Here at the old farm house, near Power, MT, nothing is heard but the wind, and it blows nearly incessantly. Several times a day, a pick-up truck passes on the gravel road. Before 6:00 am, well before light breaks, the winds and its effects are all that I hear outside. In the house, by my side, I hear Moses breathing. And I hear nature breathing with that incessant wind. That is all I hear, except for the constant buzzing in my ears, which is something I have lived with since a young Marine discharged a Howitzer on Mount Fuji to see the Navy chaplain jump out of his skin. I was that Navy chaplain, and my ears were unprotected. I jumped, and the young men laughed. The sudden thunder of the 155 mm Howitzer left my ears ringing loudly for days, and only gradually faded into the constant buzz-hum with which I live. Other than this ever-present buzzing, the sound of the wind, occasionally of branches tapping on the roof, of Moses breathing or scratching is all that I hear.
Into the silence come thoughts. The Wind is nearly personal, so real as to seem alive, so alive as to seem to have its own will and way. Inside the house, we do not feel the wind, although the candle flame keeps dancing, so I assume that wind quietly breaks into this small, old house high on the Plains. A couple of hours ago we took a short walk outside in the utter darkness. Walking outside here, at every moment, every step we take, the wind is present to Moses and to me, as an accompanying friend, or mysterious spirit. It roars more than whispers, or whispers only when it is not roaring in our ears, buffeting our bodies, chilling our skin.
Perhaps the wind blows thoughts into my mind. In any case, thoughts come in the dark silence. Many diverse thoughts come to mind, but she returns to my mind again and again, every few minutes: Zoe, who died three weeks ago. On the day she died, Bob drove Zoe, Moses, and me up to this old farm house, where I thought she would come in for the last time. But she stayed outside, lying down in grass, sunlight on her beautiful black fur. I observed her, and took several photographs. How unlike Zoe, who was ever full of life, on the prowl, searching for rabbits, on watch for deer and antelope, exploring in one direction after another. Here she lay, still, with head up, watching, keeping an eye on me, as I could see, but not willing to engage the world with her fading body.
Now she comes back to me in thought only. Zoe is gone physically. As I do my chores, or read, or listen to music, suddenly vivid thoughts of Zoe, memories from the past, arise into consciousness. Some of these thoughts are so vivid, so intense, that all else is forgotten, my attention is utterly arrested, and the past moment becomes alive again in memory. When feelings arise, most are sorrowful, because I am aware that these moments that constituted our life together are past, and I think, “She is gone.” But is she? Physically Zoe has departed. Through mind, through the activity of remembering, I am not conscious of her being absent, but of her presence, and of a shared experience. Feelings are quiet, not observed, until the memory of her fades, or I think, “but she has died.” In remembering moments, however, I am not aware of any feelings, but of Zoe’s presence.
She is there, outside, lying in the sunlight, watching me. She is on my bed, her head on my pillow, resting. She is crouching in grass, watching for rabbits. Zoe is sitting before me, gazing up into my eyes, telling me—or so I presume—that she is hungry and wants food. She walks to the door in the living room, and stares over at my in my black leather chair, indicating that she wants to go out into the dark night, not only to relieve herself, but true to Zoe, to explore, to see what she can find. And memories of being with her elsewhere arise—back in Belt, or at Black Eagle Memorial Island, swimming in the Missouri, in our yard in South Dakota, walking on the frozen river when she was so young, running through corn or soy fields. So many memories. Writing these down brings a swell of sorrow, and a welling up of tears in my eyes. And sighs. I loved this dog so much, and no doubt, she loved me. We had eight truly action-packed years together. And now?
Now there is silence, and darkness outside, electric lights inside. The memories of Zoe, as real as they are, lead me to wonder:
If shared experiences with Zoe, now memories, are so vivid and alive in me in some moments of space-time, is it possible that to God, all of her life, every moment, is ever present and most vividly known? If my limited and relatively weak mind can let Zoe be present for a few moments of remembering, what does the mind of the Creator do with a creature? To the One to whom all is known, and loved, is not every single moment of Zoe’s life still utterly alive, known, fresh? And given how creative the Creator is, is it not possible that in God’s knowing Zoe, she remains so present as to be truly alive, and in ways not limited to past experiences, or to the past at all? Is it possible that every creature is alive forever in the mind of God?
When I think of “eternal life,” of true life that extends beyond space-time, I do not think of “resurrected bodies,” or of “immortal souls” floating around in some heavenly twilight zone. No, when I think of “eternal life,” of true life, I think of God, and that “to Him all are alive,” using that utterly profound phrase from St. Luke’s Gospel. What more does one need or want? To be alive in the mind of God forever—a Mind utterly unlimited, unbounded by space-time, or by any limits on imagination—is real life, true life, eternal life. That and nothing more. No bodies to decay, no food to eat, just utter freedom and joy in the mind of the Creator, in which there is no past, no future, but only the eternally present.
I wonder more: If Zoe is alive in the mind of God, and without her dog body, is she still a dog? She would not have another nature, but all natures have bodies, at least in our realm of concrete experience, space-time. Is Zoe now some kind of spirit-being, her real person unbounded by body and limitations of dog nature? When a being dies, does it lose its nature, and become utterly one with unbounded Being, with God? Again, if only God abides in eternity, in what form, in what ways, do creatures of space-time have a share in God? We try to limit God’s creativity to satisfy our desire to exist, and imagine, as noted before, “resurrected bodies,” or “immortal souls.” Suppose that a being does not exist beyond death at all, any more than God exists beyond death, and simply is? That is the question. Are multiple unlimited beings possible? Does every being (or being-thing, creature) leave not only its body on earth, but its nature, and enter an unlimited, unbounded state of “pure spirit”? Or again, is “God all in all,” and every particular form of being—every creature—ceases to exist at death, and is in no way a unique, distinct being beyond space-time? To such questions I shall return at a later time. Now I simply wonder.
“Zoe, are you here?” I do not see her, or hear her, or smell her. Is she here? Where? In this living room with me? Not that I can see. No, Zoe is not in space-time. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Is she in my mind? To some extent, surely she is, for I can recall shared experiences. Am I not grateful to have lived with such a creature for eight years? Am I not grateful that such a free spirit, such an independent creature existed? How can I not be grateful for so many delightful, sometimes challenging experiences? If Zoe were here with me now, what would I say? To Zoe in God, and to a far lesser extent, in my mind, I say:
“I love you, my dear Zoe, now and forever. Thank you for giving me so much joy for eight years. Thank you for loving me with such open-hearted devotion. Thank you for bearing with my yelling and bouts of irascibility, as I tried to bear with your utterly free spirit and alpha-female ways. I loved you just as you were, and you loved me as I was. I love you as you are, and you love me as I am. And out of love for you, I will look after, tend, protect, and love Moses, the third member of our Pack, our family. I will love him as I have loved you, dear friend.”
“In You we live and move and have our being.”