7: Black Dog

7: Black Dog

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Black Dog

What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.

~Oscar Wilde

As we lowered the skinny body of what had been my big, fluffy, platinum-blond dog, Woofie, into his grave, I erupted in primal sobs. I didn’t know a dog could make her way so deeply into the center of my heart and soul. I swore I’d never have another dog again . . . I didn’t think I could live through the heartache of losing another one.

Six months later, I was invited to speak at a conference in New Mexico — state slogan the “Land of Enchantment” — spearheaded by our dear friends George and Sedena Cappannelli. To sweeten the pot of an already sweet opportunity, they offered my husband and me the opportunity to stay in their lovely guesthouse for the weekend. How could we resist?

We drove the long but scenic fourteen hours from Los Angeles to Santa Fe. We arrived the night before I was to speak so we could experience the acclaimed mythologist, author, and storyteller Michael Meade.

He strutted onto the stage with a conga drum. The lights went dim, and a faint spotlight found him. He told us a story in rhythm with his drum. I was transported back in time to a grassy field, starry sky, and open fire. He mesmerized us with this raspy, staccato fable (allow me to paraphrase):

There’s an old woman . . . as old as time . . . long, gray hair . . . lives in a cave . . . with her black dog sitting by her side . . . all day and night . . . she rocks in her chair and weaves . . . the most beautiful weave you’ve ever seen . . . blending all the fabric of time and space from the far reaches of this universe . . . She’s been weaving since the beginning of time . . . and it’s now almost finished . . . and it’s beautiful.

Just a few stitches left, and it will be perfect . . . but she can smell the aroma of her hearty stew that’s been brewing in a pot in the back of her cave . . . All that weaving made her hungry . . . She lays her weave down on her rocking chair while she hobbles to the back of her cave to feast on her delicious stew.

While she’s enjoying her feast, her black dog sniffs around at her weave, and begins playing and pulling on the string with his teeth and paws . . . it’s a toy, a game, it’s having a great old time . . . and by the time the old woman returns to her rocking chair, the entire weave — the one that has taken millions of years to perfect — is completely destroyed.

So, what does the old lady do? She sits back down in her rocking chair, picks up her needle and pieces of string, and resumes her weaving.

He paused dramatically, stopped drumming, and asked the audience point blank:

Who is your black dog?

Who or what in your life gets in the way, just when everything is going perfectly? Just when everything is exactly the way you want it, just when you’re at the finish line of an important plan or project, when you’re so close you can taste it?

Everyone has a black dog.

Is it a person, an injury, a political leader, a parent, a child, your job that rips it all into shreds?

And you might think it strange, but be grateful for your black dog.

When something is perfect, in Latin, it also means finished. Complete. Done. No more. If the old lady had finished her weave, it would mark the end of time, perhaps the end of the world, and maybe the universe, for that matter.

Thank God for the black dog — that troublemaker, saboteur, nuisance we blame for our problems. But, in fact, if we looked at the situation differently, we’d see that it’s the black dog that keeps us in the game, that triggers our passion, keeps us going, engages and challenges us to be more creative and alive than we ever were before.

I was in tears as we drove through the high desert with the sky brightly lit by more stars than I’d ever seen. I thought about the legions of “black dogs” that lined my path. I saw so many of what I deemed horrible interruptions to my life’s “perfect” path: almost getting the starring role in a TV series back in my acting days — subverted by a producer who wanted a relationship with me I wasn’t willing to have; nearly adopting a child who mysteriously died the day before the adoption would be finalized; and the business deals my husband had been involved in that would have made us a fortune — sabotaged by a person or situation that was a “black dog” in disguise.

We made it “home” to our guesthouse situated amid red rocks and cacti, and our friend/host George yelled out to us, “Welcome home. Hey, don’t be scared of the BLACK DOG sitting on your porch. She’s a stray. She has been hanging around the guesthouse for the past few weeks. We don’t know where she came from, but she’s friendly.”

Sure enough, a beautiful, shiny Black Lab was sitting on our porch, waiting for us, with her pink tongue out and tail wagging.

George was right. She was friendly. I asked her to sit, and she sat. I asked her to shake, and she lifted her right paw to shake my hand. I asked her to lie down, and she did. After fumbling with the keys, we opened the door, and she walked right in like she owned the place. I had a few bites in a “doggy bag” left from dinner that I fed her. She seemed very happy.

We slept that night with the black dog curled up in a ball on the rug right next to our bed.

Without going through all the details, suffice it to say, Shadow has been our dog now for the past six years. And as adorable and loveable as she is, true to the “black dog” story, she has been a force of destruction in our lives as well. She refuses to be left alone, and we’ve nearly gone broke paying for “doggy day care” every time we want to go on a date or out of town. She’s made the interior of two of our cars look like Freddy Krueger and Edward Scissorhands had a fight inside.

But, on a positive note, she’s also managed to rip my heart open in a whole new way. Despite the challenges that come from our black dog, Shadow, I love her with my entire heart and wouldn’t trade her for all the perfectly well behaved dogs on the planet.

My dear friend and world-class fusion artist, Rassouli, is famous for saying: “There can be no creation without destruction. Destruction always precedes creation!”

About a month after Shadow entered our lives, my stepdaughter, Meesha, was moving into a new apartment that did not allow dogs. She asked if her dog, Lola (a Chiweenie — half Chihuahua, half Dachshund) could live with us.

Before my heart had been opened by Shadow, I would have never been open to such a proposition. Add to it the fact that my stepdaughter and I had a strained relationship at that point.

But with my now opened heart, I surprised myself by responding, “Why not? Let’s take her. She’ll be a playmate for Shadow, and it will help Meesha — a win-win all around.”

Lola and Shadow, despite being an “odd couple,” are the best of friends. In fact, I could not imagine Shadow without Lola, or Lola without Shadow.

Little did I know the ripple effect of embracing our black dog into our lives would be the catalyst for my stepdaughter becoming a wonderful part of my life and a healing balm being released throughout my husband’s family. Where there once was anger and resentment, there is friendship and warmth . . . and it all started with the unexplainable trail of coincidences (synchronicities) that all led back to our black dog.

Every day, I hug her big, fluffy black self, and she reminds me not to cry over the near-perfect plans I weave that get thwarted. Instead I embrace the “black dogs” that life brings me as the source of untold blessings in disguise.

~Kelly Sullivan Walden

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