St. John's Dog

Dust-filled drops of rain fell cold and heavy through the winter evening. It had been falling steadily the entire time I had been on the path. I was walking underneath a grove of old oak trees, their empty branches doing nothing for the rain. An emptiness pervaded my thoughts making me feel melancholic: longing to recover some forgotten strand of hope or purpose. 

It seemed that I had been walking for so long and was still so far away.

At the end of the grove, where the tall grass grown heavy with the rain bent down towards the earth, I saw a stray dog walking  back and forth. I made no effort to call him and soon, as it was on my way, was standing a few feet away. He was not at all alarmed at my presence. He simply continued his pacing off to the side of the path, waiting or wanting in some obscure purpose. I decided it best to leave him be and walked onwards through the rain.

I had gone quite a ways before I turned to look behind me. The stray dog was there, about twenty yards back. I called out several times but he kept his distance.

Soon I was in view of the cabin. I welcomed the image of its warmth and dryness. A glimmer of hope pressed into my despair: at least there is this. The rain was suddenly lighter. I even laughed.

At the door I looked back to find the stray. Perhaps, I would bring him in for a while. The prospect of his quiet and lonely companionship gave me no trouble. But there was no sign of him. 

The rain rose into an enormous storm in the night. Every now and then, I got up from my reading to look out the window,  wiping circles into the cold fogged glass.

The next morning I awoke early and went to look for him. I slowly walked back up the path, searching and calling into the high grass and bushes. At the oaks, I went in circles, trying to spot tracks in the cool mud below. 

The sun was intense, burning in a sea of blue. The heated world lifted curls of natural fragrance into the humid air. It was a different world than yesterday and I was different in it.

Near the center of the grove, I turned and the stray was suddenly there. Standing on the border of the shadow and the sunlight. A strange thought danced through my head as we watched each other: it was of his concern for me, seeming to say: I only wanted to make sure you got through the storm.

I stared at the dog a long time and made a half-hearted gesture of raising my hand in acknowledgement. At least there is this, I said quietly, as if it were part of a prayer.

The dog lowered his head for a moment, smiled, yes smiled, and trotted away.

The goods of God, which are beyond all measure, can only be contained in an empty and solitary heart. 

- St. John of the Cross

1988 (revised 2007)

Published in Life Times #5