Cuthbert died today. Cuthbert was a 14-15 year old dog of mixed Collie and Labrador breed and John and my companion in life for more than 13 years. Cuthbert simply got old and it finally came time to assist him in his death. It was, of course, an excruciating thing to do.
Everything I would say about Cuthbert sounds trite, but nevertheless true. He was a dog’s dog, a faithful companion, a lover of life. I ran across the above quote from Dostoyevsky while looking for a prayer to say with him as he died. The words “untroubled joy” struck me hard. That’s it! That’s the quality Cuthbert brought to life.
And he, in his dog’s way, was an evangelist of this joy. There were very few people Cuthbert ever met who he could not charm, even a few non-dog people. He was the resident extrovert in our house, making friends at light speed compared to his dads.
Cuthbert was God’s gift to us and to the world, and part of what it means that he had the gift of “untroubled joy” was that he was quite comfortable with that, as most animals are. We humans are too frequently not quite comfortable with the gift that we are to creation, therefore our joy is “troubled.” I take that to mean that it is often inaccessible, smothered by life’s myriad anxieties, doubts and fears.
A month or so ago it occurred to me that Cuthbert’s tail was no longer wagging. It was a sure sign that his zest for life was flagging and that the end was coming near. This was of massive significance since he always greeted people he knew with a propeller for a tail. That propeller was a sign of his untroubled joy. I remember it well as he ran across the cemetery in my last parish one day carrying something in his mouth that looked like a rock. When he dropped it at my feet I could see it was a turtle, and he was uncontrollably happy that he had caught it!
It is a sad day for us. Our friend is dead. But we do not sorrow as those without hope. The new creation for which we all long has a place in it for creatures with untroubled joy.