Lewis Richmond, an ordained Zen priest and author of Aging as a Spiritual Practice, began his studies 40 years ago with the renowned teacher, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Richmond relates that one day, after a talk, a student said, “Suzuki Roshi – you’ve talked for an hour, and I haven’t understood a word you’ve said. Could you please tell me one thing about Buddhism I can understand?”
The master waited for the laughter to die down and said, “Everything changes.”
“Everything changes” is a truth we often would rather forget, but sometimes events make that impossible. Our oldest dog, Holly, has serious medical issues. She has come to the end of her life. This month has been a daily exercise in letting go, in watching her, in trying to gauge the quality of her life and which interventions make sense.
The vet confirms that she’s not in any pain. She is still feisty and cuddlesome in turn. She turns up her nose at dog food much of the time, but still likes buttered toast and hot dogs, so antibiotics make sense. So does medication to increase the blood flow to her kidneys, which are failing. We take turns administering “subcutaneous fluid replacement therapy” each morning, which was scary at first, but has become a very serene, if bitter-sweet, time to bond with her and reflect. With quiet music and morning sun slanting into the room, we calm ourselves so Holly calms down and stroke her head while 150 ml of solution flow through the drip.
We brought her home as a puppy when she was eight weeks old. She’ll be 16 at the end of the month if she lasts that long – we don’t know – it could be days or weeks or months. It’s hard to believe how quickly sixteen years goes by.
Is there anything that doesn’t change? All of the major religions say yes, there are the ways to unravel the knot. A reminder of why there is nothing more important may be Holly’s final gift.