Joey came into my life through an animal cruelty case. She was considered evidence, which logically made complete sense to me, but in the place where my feelings live, evidence was supposed to be some sort of inanimate object that could be kept on a shelf in a police station, catalogued in a file box long after the case was adjudicated. At one point, a turn in the case made me having to return her to the man accused of running the puppy mill a distinct possibility. Fear, anger, more fear, a river of tears, and two attorney consultations later, the evidence was ever more important to me. The evidence was just to be a foster dog to alleviate stress on the shelter responsible for housing became family.
I was the world’s worst foster parent.
She wormed her way into my heart within about 12 hours. That little brownhead is the canine version of me—an active, stubborn, smart, loving asshole.
Protecting my family was paramount; I even went so far as to set up an underground railroad-type system of six different non-relative friends she could stay with if the case were dismissed and she was to be returned.
Walks were protective that winter, since I now lived in a world where sheriff’s deputies, armed with warrants were lurking around every corner, ready to snatch my baby back to the unknown that was Turner County.
It was a little obsessive since I loved my girls so much, but mostly due to my wacked out, over-active imagination, which led me to specialty Catholic supply store.
Catholic friends, don’t be offended—the first time I went to a Catholic church my observation was, “Cool, you have footrests.” It would be a cute story if I were eight. I was 19, but I was corrected—“They’re for kneeling when you pray”—and did stay for the service, er mass, but was really confused about all the up and down. Back home in the Reformed Church, we were stuck in the pews unless asked to stand during a hymn, and that was riding the pine—no cushions there.
My limited experience with Catholicism made me aware of their recognition of different saints who help with certain life situations. Who would be my saint? I waited on plenty of priests at the restaurant at which I worked, but I was a little scared of that dialogue since I’m not Catholic, or a churchgoer of any type. I didn’t want to leave the impression that I was mocking their faith or just trying to score a favor from the Universe since I was experiencing some trouble and uncertainty. Same story with consulting a friend—religion is so odd like that, some people assume I’m an atheist or have no spiritual basis to my life since I am not a church-goer.
So what did I do?
Was I looking for the saint who comforted the confused? The fearful? The saint who looked out for the attorneys trying the case or the judge presiding over the mess? The lost? The 30-something chick making herself sick with worry over losing one of the beings she loved more than herself before she barely had a chance to know her?
Then it smashed across my head like a bag of kibble: It wasn’t about me.
It was about Joey.
It wasn’t about what I might lose; it was about the hope for her to continue the life we’d started.
Then I found my saint like the birds who surrounded him as he preached. My saint was Saint Francis, the nurturer of animals and the environment. The humble man who lived in poverty and is probably the closest saint I could get to a hippie.
When I was a child I would hold funerals for dead birds, usually robins, the most basic bird in these parts, but the 40 inch tall version of me knew each little bird deserved a few good words before time took their feathers away.
Maybe I didn’t find Francis, maybe I re-found him.
He was with me when I was 23 and went to Paris. In front of Notre Dame, there’s a beautiful courtyard space where I was sitting one morning, taking the whole scene in, the way one has to when the buildings have centuries of history, wondering who might have stood in that spot and pondered his or her life. My thoughts were interrupted when I noticed a rough-looking man feeding tiny songbirds just a few feet away.
Whatever his situation, his face was kind. I started to take his picture and when he noticed, he stopped to pose. He motioned me over.
He took my hand at the wrist, turned it over, and placed some of the breadcrumbs in my hand. He pointed at the birds, nodded, and gently guided my hand towards the tiny, feathered creatures. One jumped into my hand and started pecking, tickling my palm. A second friend joined in the pecking on my hand. The man laughed at my laugh.
Maybe Francis never left me.
But I wasn’t thinking about those experiences when I walked into the Catholic supply store that day, I was just on a mission to find a Saint Francis medallion. I knew I didn’t need a nun’s habit to pass as a Catholic, but I also knew I couldn’t get roped into any type of questioning about where I attended mass or if OG won the last big game.
So, I lied.
The lady at the store was so nice and helpful, but I lied. I told her it was a gift. I’m not sure what the penance for lying to the nice Catholic lady at the Catholic supply store is, but I try to be a decent human, so that should count for something.
That was late in 2009 and I’ve worn a medallion many days since. Faith, superstition, or whatever you want to call it makes me want to wear it.
Once at the restaurant, I was cleaning off a table after the guests left and I found a Virgin Mary medallion on the floor. The guests were gone, so I put it in my pocket without really thinking much about it, figuring I’d toss it in the lost and found on my next trip to the host stand. I had to laugh when the table was re-seated and it was a priest and two nuns. I relayed the story to them and said, “Your presence was announced.” The priest laughed. The nuns smiled.
We all have signs and symbols woven into our lives; we place the amount of meaning we chose into them. When I reflect and really look for the patterns, though, it does get interesting. Did Joey find me Francis or did Francis find me Joey? Maybe she is the evidence that there are bigger forces at work around us.
Not that it really matters in the end. Joey is curled up in the papasan chair and Alli is on the couch, tired from a long run this morning and what I can only imagine as the hard work of being so awesome. I am grateful for the love in my life no matter the path by which it came.
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is error, the truth,
Where there is doubt, the faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.