By Avril Brown
I must have been 8 or 9 years old. I don’t even remember what I did wrong; it was probably something stupid like squirting water onto a hot lightbulb just to see what would happen or using a phrase I had learned on the playground to inquire after my mother’s cooking like, “What the hell is that?” Whatever my transgression was, my parents had yelled at me so I was crying in my room
In the midst of my sobfest, a comforting sound reached my ears, the noise of extra long nails on a hardwood floor. My family’s dog, Bhakti (pronounced “bakh-tee”), a shaggy Tibetan Terrier, had come to see what was wrong. He walked up to me, laid his glorious furry head in my lap, and looked up with those chocolate-brown eyes that told me, “Don’t cry, everything is going to be okay.” This display of unabashed adoration and love brought on a fresh onslaught of tears, this time from a happier place in my heart. I leaned forward to hug him, buried my face in his shaggy tan fur and whispered a thank you into his coat.
There were a million reasons why Bhakti was wonderful, but the predominant one was his seemingly endless sympathy. He knew when something was wrong, and he always tried to make it better. The word “bhakti” (originally a Sanskrit term and now a discipline of yoga) means intense devotion, and my pup certainly lived up to his namesake. However, I’ll be the first to admit, he wasn’t the smartest pup in the litter. He couldn’t roll over, or play dead, or eat my homework on command. But he didn’t need fancy tricks or superior intelligence; all he would have to do was look at me to make me happy.
He taught me so many things, like how much fun it is to stick your head out of the window at 40 miles per hour. He also helped me grow up. I used to keep my bedroom door open when I went to sleep because I needed the hallway light for comfort. But when Bhakti made a regular habit out of coming into my room in the middle of the night to loudly dig dirty tissues out of my garbage can, I finally learned how to sleep in total darkness.
The hardest lesson to learn came the weekend of my 13th birthday. Bhakti had reached the ripe old age of 17 and a half, but with age came the loss of use of his back legs and complications from kidney disease. The time had come to realize my dog was no longer a puppy, and he was in pain. The morning after my sleepover party, I said goodbye to my dog. I kissed his nose, wrapped my arms around him and buried my face in that woolly coat for the last time. I held onto my tears until the last of my guests had left, releasing them only when I went to bed that night. Having to euthanize Bhakti on my birthday was not an easy incident to move past, but there was no choice, and I understood that. His final lesson to me was to not take everything so personally, and to live a life of unequivocal love, freely given and richly received.
* Avril Brown is a recent graduate of Cornell University and a dedicated animal lover with the aspirations of an amateur writer/scientist. She lives in Chicago with her sister.