My days were spent trying to sleep as long as possible. Sleep meant no pain. When I could no longer fool myself into thinking sleep was still possible, I meditated and listened to wellness tapes instructing me that imagining myself healthy was essential to becoming healthy. After ten minutes of these tapes, I began to feel like an impostor, like a weary atheist listening to a sermon hoping that the words alone, without belief, will create the miracle. I got out of bed, starting the day already feeling defeated. The combination of my complete isolation from life along with physical pain and emotional upheaval was not a pretty sight.
My husband, worried over my increasing distance from life, suggested we try pet therapy. I was lost, a refugee cast out from my own body with little sense of direction left. I did not agree or disagree with his plan. I simply let events happen. He spoke with a friend who is a breeder of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and she gave us Mina, a ruby-colored beauty with a gift for healing.
Over the next few weeks, as my pain level fluctuated, Mina began to show her powers as a gifted empath. When I sat quietly to meditate, she moved a few feet away, staying in range, but not intruding. When pain or depression forced me to lie down, she snuggled closely, resting her head on my shoulder. Sometimes she scaled my chest with her paws until her head was level with mine. Then she looked me right in the eyes, nestled her cheek against mine, pressed her paws against my neck, and hugged.
One late winter afternoon, after I had been swimming in deeper and deeper pools of pain all day, I finally collapsed to the floor in a wretched heap of tears. My husband was at a loss as to how to help me. He was afraid that this time, I might have sunk too far down and would not be able to pull myself out as I had so many times before. I could see the fear in his eyes, and that only increased my sense of hopelessness.
At that moment, Mina came over and sat in the curve of my body and relaxed against me. No hugs, no licks, no attempts to persuade me to shake myself out of my misery. She just rested against me, composed and patient. In her stillness, she was able to tap into a thread of hope that still endured somewhere deep inside. From that source, I could draw a clear breath. Her calmness reassured me as no human intervention could have.
Over the months, I watched her closely. She taught me what no therapist or body worker or tape on healing could. Mina lived entirely in the present. She slept at the exact moment when tiredness overtook her. She quaked with delight at the sight of a treat being extracted from its bag. She sat patiently while I prepared her food, and then leapt toward the spot where I always placed her dish. Even though she got walked four times a day, each walk was a wonderful new adventure with droves of squirrels to chase and a seething ocean of underground smells to fathom. Sometimes, as we walked, she was so stuffed with exuberance that the excess burst out of her, propelling her into a pirouette. Those rare times when I scolded her, she retreated into a sulk for a few minutes, but then her irrepressible desire to be fully engaged in life returned, and she was once again leaping, hugging, sniffing, and sleeping.
She anchored me back in life as nothing else could. I no longer experienced pain as an endless desert. It was punctuated by the rising and falling of her chest as she slept by my side. When her puppy face, draped by her long, silken ears, was nestled against my shoulder, I felt sheltered. And as the years passed, and I slowly recovered, whenever dark habits drew me back into a state of depression, I whispered her name, “Mina.” The ensuing rhapsodic swishing of her feathery tail reminded me that there were squirrels to chase, bones to unearth, and a life to be lived.