September 15, 2014

God Knows My Heart

I was a young teen when my dog died.

From the time I was five, Tippy was a cherished friend. We played cowboys and Indians together. Ate cake and ice cream and corn on the cob together. 
Weathered trials together. 

Even storms. 

One storm in particular could have easily ended our lives.

Tip was only a young pup, just weeks old, when she came into my life. 
That summer, lightning struck the neighbor's towering poplar tree. 
The dog and I were only yards away, playing near a metal swing set. 

As the bright flash cut through the afternoon, the sound of thunder slammed into 
our bodies, robbing, at least me, of my hearing. 

I couldn't make sense of what had happened. 

Terror pounded in my heart. Time was suspended. It seemed the world went to 
black and white. For a moment, I didn't know if I was dead or alive. 

I don't which one of us started for the house first, but we ultimately ended up 
at the back door together. I cast one frantic backward glance at the tree -- 
it lay half in the neighbor's yard, half draped over our cinder block fence. 
Shattered and smoldering, it had been destroyed. 

That image is forever burned in my memory. 

The image and the knowing that came with it -- the knowing that life can quickly and easily be taken at any time.  

Once inside the house, Tippy and I cowered under a pile of blankets on my bed. It seemed like hours before we were ready to emerge and face the world once again. 

From that day forward, we both held a deep aversion to bright lights and loud noises. Relatives and friends listened to the story with silent amazement and polite interest. Yes, it was a miracle, they agreed, that Tip and I -- right under the metal swing set -- hadn't been struck as well. But, quickly, interest in the incident faded,
 leaving only Tip and I to share the haunting emotions.

When Tip died, my world turned to black and white again. I wanted comfort. I craved it. 
But it didn't come. My father couldn't speak of death in any form, human or 
animal, and only turned away from me. 

He wrapped Tip in an old crocheted blanket and put her in a box.

He said he would wait until I got home from school to bury her.

But after school, I didn't go home.

I could not face thinking of Tip never again being there to greet me and love me. 
Our sharing the experience with the lightning had forged a deep bond between us. 

An understanding. 

Even when days turned into weeks, months, and years, when no once else cared or remembered our near miss with fate, we still understood the fear in each other. 

When nobody else understood how I loathed the loudness of yelling in our home, Tip did and she would sit by me until the storm waned. 

When nobody else could fathom how a dog could be so terrified of the Fourth of  July, 
I did  -- and I would sit with her as long as I was allowed next to the old white chest 
freezer in the basement to wait out the last of the fireworks. 

To think of that bond of understanding and camaraderie erased, well, I simply could not 
bear it. And due to ever present storms on the horizon of my life, I didn't believe 
there would ever be any other bond or comfort available to take its place. 

How, I wondered, could I live with the pain? 

My adolescent mind -- swimming in pain and confusion -- conjured the idea that 
if I didn't physically see my dog, my friend, committed to the earth,  it wouldn't really be true that she was gone. So, no, I didn't go home . . . for hours.

By the time I had no where else to go, I walked home and quietly entered the house. 
The anger my parent's felt toward me was palpable and well voiced. 
Lightning seemed to strike again, blinding me and tearing into my heart. 
I was labeled as uncaring, cold, selfish. Why, they'd had no choice but to bury the dog without me. How could I be so calloused? The labels stung and imprinted themselves deeply, marring my ability to trust myself and others. 

In the ensuing years, lightning has, figuratively, continued to strike. Scathing remarks and judgments because of my choices and decisions. Don't I know, I've been asked, that my belief in religion is just a crutch? Blame for the unhappiness of others. Don't I know that if I would just conform to certain ideas and ideals, rationalizations of what is right and wrong, all would be fine? Don't I know how my insistence on integrity and loyalty is old fashioned? 

No, I know none of those things.

But what I do know, what I have come to know from learning to face each storm, is that I am not alone. More so that on an even deeper level than a child and a dog who shared understanding and a special bond, I know I am loved of God. And that no matter the emotional lightning strikes, He knows my heart. He understands my pain, my fear, 
my dread, and, equally, my hopes, my dreams, and my good intentions. 

He knows. 

And I am so grateful to know that He does . . .