May 5, 2012

Hard to explain the unexplainable

Our first family dog was a great black Newfoundland.

Braham was so tall he could put his head on our dinner table. He was so gentle our baby could playfully kick his feet in Braham's mouth.

Once, when the baby was playing on the floor, Braham came racing through the house, chasing our cat. Before I could react, Braham launched his 150-pound frame over our son, not even grazing him.

Right after Braham's second birthday, we were at home on a hot July evening when I heard a knock at our door. My stomach flipped in premonition.

Holding the baby, I opened the door to a clearly anxious man who said, "I hit your dog, but I think he's going to be OK."

I followed this stranger to where Braham lay, looking dazed. I knelt beside him, the baby on my lap, and lifted his heavy head. I looked into his eyes and, for a moment, he was still there. Then, with no sound, he went limp, and the light in his eyes extinguished. Everything that was our dog had vanished. I held a shell.

A while ago, I took a parenting course. One of the trainers reported on a study by doctors where mothers sang to their infants, but they sang without facial expression or intonation. In each case, as the emotionless mother sang, the baby would look confused and begin to cry.

What is it about a life force that is so indefinably compelling? I think of Madonna's song "Crazy For You" and the line "I can feel the weight of your stare." What? How can we "feel" someone watching us? Clearly, there can be no weight or measure to a look; yet, isn't it there?

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