A Story of Spiritual Communion
By Cliff Garvey
In Dreamers of the Day, Mary Doria Russell writes: “Abandon a dachshund and upon your return, you may well be confronted with a small token of [his] displeasure. This, for the dachshund, is an undignified but necessary form of training. Eventually, you will learn your lesson, which is to take [him] everywhere. When you have finally accepted this, you will be generously rewarded for your good behavior by a jaunty, joyful companion.”
Linus was a piebald miniature dachshund. He was, indeed, a jaunty and joyful companion, and so much more. Linus was complicated: sometimes joyful and sometimes sad; sometimes confident and sometimes terribly anxious and insecure; sometimes obedient and sometimes stubborn beyond belief; sometimes moody, but always forgiving, loving, and loyal. Linus did not like being left behind; he soon taught me to take him almost everywhere. We went to the coffee shop together; to the hardware store together; and to the garden center together. We shopped together; tried on shoes together; and sat on a pier and ate lobster rolls together. Well, I ate the lobster rolls, but Linus enjoyed a kibble or two dipped into the baked beans.
Linus loved the ocean. In just twenty-nine months together, we visited all of the beaches in Gloucester many times. In Maine, our home away from home, we traveled together to places like Eastport, Bucksport, Jonesport, Searsport, and Machiasport. We checked out Lubec, Linconville, and Pemaquid Point; Beals Island, Verona Island, and Spruce Head Island; Belfast Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, Castine Harbor, Tenants Harbor, and Winter Harbor; along with Eggemoggin Reach, the Mount Desert Narrows, the Tidal Falls in Hancock, and Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park.
One of my favorite memories was driving to Deer Isle for coffee. Yes, it is a long way, but the coffee is very, very good. When we arrived, I placed Linus on the sidewalk. He led me down the street, past the coffee shop, past the art gallery, and past the public library. He turned right into a grassy field, down some granite steps, and out onto the rocks. Finally, Linus stopped, stared, and sniffed the salty air. My little sea dog just loved the ocean. Almost every morning and evening, Linus and I walked along the Boulevard in Gloucester. After taking care of necessary business, we sometimes sat on a bench or wandered out onto the rocks. Alone together, we enjoyed the sights, smells, and sounds of the sea. Linus loved it there, too.
One afternoon not long ago, we walked the Boulevard together for what would be the last time. We were treated to a spectacular sunset. It was a dazzling array of color, light, shadow, and movement. To Linus and to no one in particular, I said: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” It was a good day. On the following morning, Linus was lame. A local veterinarian examined him and prescribed pain and anti-inflammatory medicines. She said that if his condition worsened, he should be brought to the emergency room at the Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital in Woburn. For the rest of that day, Linus seemed calm and comfortable. He ate well, slept well, and walked a little. He rested most of the time.
By late afternoon the following day, Linus ate his usual supper. I carried him to a local park. He took a few steps and went to the bathroom. All seemed normal enough. But then, he sat down and looked at me with saddest eyes. He seemed to say: “I am sorry, but I just cannot walk anymore.” I picked him up, carried him home, and whispered over and over again, more my sake than for his sake: “It’s okay, Linus, we’ll fix it. I promise.” But we could not fix it.
Throughout that evening, his condition worsened. He was restless. He was clearly uncomfortable. We rushed him to the emergency room. A veterinary neurosurgeon soon shared the devastating diagnosis. Linus had somehow suffered a catastrophic back injury that caused almost complete paralysis. He could no longer move his hind legs. He could no longer control his bladder or bowels. He could no longer wag his tail. She said that his chances for any meaningful recovery, either with surgery or steroid therapy, were very slim. We couldn’t fix it.
I asked for a second opinion. I talked through tears with my dad, who loved Linus and took care of him during my travels abroad. I also called my friend, Christine. She knows everything about dachshunds. She arranged the adoption that brought Linus into my life. After hearing all of the facts, Christine said: “Cliff, it’s time to give our little boy back to Jesus.” Christine loved Linus almost as much as me. She knew that he would never be happy for two, three, or ten years in a bed, unable to walk, unable to play with his friends, unable to explore the next stops on our tour of the Maine coast.
Linus loved munchies, roadies, walkies, and wrestling with Boo, his best friend. He loved doggy treats, especially blueberry oatmeal cookies and those expensive dental treats made in Iceland. He loved his alpaca blanket, his fleece blanket, and the hugs that we called “fold ups.” He loved Father Jim, my mom and dad, and Uncle Steve who lives down the road. Linus loved to greet parishioners before and after weekend Masses because we was a flirt and loved attention from the ladies. Most of all, Linus loved being held in my arms. This is how he passed away. This is how he will be remembered in my shattered heart.
During a global pandemic, it is hard to justify such wrenching grief over a little dog. In the end, however, this is not really a story about Linus or the sadness felt by those who loved him. It is about something else. It is about spiritual communion. It is about being united with Jesus, with each other, and with a community of believers through prayer, empathy, and mutual support.
An act of spiritual communion unites us with God and with others through prayer. Spiritual communion is the ancient idea, more relevant than ever before, that we are united with Jesus when we receive Holy Eucharist at Mass; and also in other ways, in other places, and at other times. When we visit the Blessed Sacrament. When we pray for what we need. When we pray with each other. When we pray for each other. Spiritual communion is about fraternity, friendship, empathy, sympathy, compassion, understanding, and unity of heart, mind, and spirit.
Spiritual communion is about clinging to Jesus and clinging to each other, even when we can’t be together, even when we can’t pray together, even when we can’t worship together in person. Spiritual communion is about sharing our love for God and our love for each other at a level above and beyond a handshake or hug. It is about a mystical bond between believers, held together by a mutual love for Christ, a mutual love for our neighbor, a mutual love for our common home. It is about a mystical bond between believers, held together by the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.
After Linus died, the news spread quickly by email, social media, text message, and word of mouth among family, friends, and fellow parishioners. In just one month, I was blessed to receive more than two hundred messages from people all around the world. Most of these messages came from people who knew me, who knew Linus, who could see the bond between one man and his dog. Some of these messages came from people who had only heard about a special little dog whose life was too short, but who made a big impression on many, many people. These messages came with words of wisdom, words of support and sympathy, and assurances of prayers.
Leo Buscaglia writes: “Too often, we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Dr. Buscaglia understands the power of love. He understands that love, in whatever form it takes, can move mountains, transform lives, and change the world. A touch. A smile. A kind word. A listening ear. An honest compliment. And a promised prayer.
These prayers were offered by friends, family members, fellow parishioners, and followers on social media. These prayers were offered by people I knew well, by people I didn’t know at all, by people I hadn’t seen in years. These prayers raised me up, brought me back, boosted my spirits. These prayers threaded the spiritual needle that began to stitch together a broken heart. These prayers inspired me to take a chance on another puppy and to look for the next spectacular sunset.
Now more than ever, when so many people are sick, when so many people are suffering, when so many people are grieving, let’s pray together. Let’s pray for each other and with each other. Let’s pray for the day when we can gather again, without fear, with our families, friends, and fellow parishioners. Let’s pray for the day when we can gather again in prayer, fellowship, and service. Let’s pray for those we love and for those we have loved and lost. And let’s pray for the little dogs who bring us together and lead us forth in joy, pain, and spiritual communion. By praying together, God will fix it. That’s a promise.
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francis of Assisi, Patron of Animals, pray for us! Saint Rocco, Patron of Dogs, pray for us! Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to Losing Linus: A Story of Spiritual Communion. The Assisi Project Podcast is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at email@example.com. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Photo: Linus at Deer Isle (2020)
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (see links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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In Memory of Linus. All Dogs Go to Heaven.