What is a Miracle?
Loss and Comfort; Are We Always Simply Looking in the Wrong Direction?
Mushroom, our beloved and unbelievably elderly dog, finally passed away. There was a day when he simply pulled his snout back sharply at the offer of food, and from then on, his decline was rapid.
There was a day when I would come into the house and find him slouched like a little black and white parcel in unusual places such as the corners of the dining room, or else I’d see him oddly trying to stand behind the wood stove. There were days during which he lay in his bed, curled in a furry round circle as usual, but scarcely moving; the concern, practically the breath, of angels, was palpably over him.
Brian, my husband, made broths, and tried to feed him with a spoon. At last the spoon was refused, and we knew we did not have long with him.
We called two vets; both were compassionate, but brisk, and quick to suggest euthanasia. “There’s a vet service that comes to your house, very sensitively, to put your dog to sleep,” explained one veterinary assistant. “This woman is great — you will love her.”
“I don’t think I’ll love anyone who is coming over to euthanize my dog,” I blurted out.
The other vet, a little less alarmingly, said that if we brought Mushroom to them, we could hug him in the back seat of the car while they “put him to sleep.” With a heavy heart we made the appointment.
That was one of the worst days of Brian’s and my life. We both felt such a sense of wrongdoing, of negative, inharmonious, even profane forces around us.
We tried to prepare the car to take Mushroom to the vet, but everything went wrong. We noticed that the car was out of registration. We messed up the timing of the appointment. I forgot my phone and had to turn back. It seemed that we simply could not bring ourselves to pick up our little friend and take him, tucked comfortably in his favorite yellow blanket, in his warm blue dogbed, to arrange for the end of his life.
When Mushroom seemed to rally a bit and accepted a sip of water, I called the vet and cancelled. “It’s not the right time,” I explained.
Brian and I looked at each other with huge relief. We were each glad the other had reached the same conclusion. “I just can’t take my best friend to be executed,” said Brian.
So we knew that Mushroom would soon die at home, and we tried to make him comfortable and let him know how loved he was.
The days before his decline, as you know, I used to take him out to the bend in the river in the woods across the bridge from our house. I would hold him as he looked at the water - a burbling stretch heading toward a little waterfall — and as he listened to its roaring music. As he faded, he became measurably lighter in my arms, still wrapped in his favorite yellow blanket.
Finally he grew so weak that he could only look at the water for a short time, and then his head would sink as his neck could no longer hold it up. But still he seemed to love that place, and I think he loved being there with me.
The day before he lay down in his bed without getting up, I was amazed at what I saw in the river: as he and I looked at his usual favorite place in the water, there was, unbelievably, a single long-stemmed red rose, just hovering right under the surface of the water, perfectly horizontal. I am not kidding and I am not exaggerating; it was an archetypal bright red rose just in bud, with a long green stem stripped of thorns; the kind of classic red rose that looks as if taken from a bouquet in a 1960s musical set in Paris.
I looked around — from where could it have come? Did someone drop trash from the bridge — and would a single rose have been in the trash and survived, in perfect condition like this? I saw a bit of detritus, so thought that must be the answer, and I called out to ask Brian to come over. “Did someone dump their trash in our river, and this rose somehow was captured in this place in the water? Or is it a miracle?” I half-jokingly asked him.
He looked at the perfect bloom hovering just under the water, unmoving, though powerful currents poured around it. “What’s a miracle?" he asked.
Every day I went down to the river as Mushroom was sinking, and then as he was dying. To my astonishment, the rose stayed just where it was for ten days. There were rains, and snow and hail. The rose stayed put. The cold water must have kept it from decaying, because while its petals slowly opened, they did not bruise or tear or fade. Two branches, improbably, formed the shape of a cross over the hovering, water-held rose.
The last night of Mushroom’s life, I stayed upstairs. We both had murmured to him our different messages of comfort and farewell; I had whispered into the soft, barely warm fur on top of his head that it was okay, he had been such a good dog, that Rosa and Joe were big now, that he had taken such good care of us all, and that we loved him, and that he could go now if he needed to.
Brian was tending to Mushroom. I fell asleep upstairs at last. At a few minutes past midnight, I felt Brian’s hand on my shoulder: “he’s gone.”
The days after that were painful. There was an aching quality to the house. We awaited now his ashes from the vet, and we planned to scatter them by the place where he used to love to look at the water.
Brian took the bone-shaped name-tag that read “Mushroom”, and nailed it to the tree that overlooked that bend in the river. He put Mushroom’s blue plastic bowl down at the foot of the tree, weighted it with glass marbles, and filled it with water. Deer now came out of the woods, delicately, to drink from the blue bowl.
A day or so after Mushroom’s passing, the rose was still in the water. But now it started to release its petals. I am telling the truth.
The second night after Mushroom died, I had that horrible feeling you have when you are a mom and you dream that you have misplaced your baby. I had cared for Mushroom for so long, and then Brian had joined me in caring for him, and now we could not care for him in any way. I started to tear up and tried to pray. “God, please take care of my little dog,” I began, but that did not sound right. It felt like the wrong job description. God is super busy.
I am Jewish, and I have no idea who Mary really is, but some time ago I stopped trying to fit spiritual needs into boxes with labels. It just came to me in that moment to try again; so I prayed, “Mother Mary, please look after my little dog.”
And I wept and wept, but felt comforted. Surely she would.
That night I dreamt that Mary showed me the empty physical body of Mushroom, truly spent, almost broken with age. It was not a kindness to wish him back inside that body. And she then showed me with a gesture a lovely sight — Mushroom, but in a just-grown-past-puppy body, sleeping peacefully, the warmth of health and youth on him again. Wherever he was, he was fine.
“What’s a miracle?” Did my subconscious produce a meaningless wish fulfillment, a fairy tale for me, just when I needed one, as Dr Freud would have maintained? Maybe. Did an answer from the universe produce itself, making use of a symbol system that brought me comfort, just when I needed it to do so? Maybe.
Did a neighbor dump trash in our river that led to a rose hovering just under the water for ten days while our dog was dying? Maybe. Did the universe show us a symbol of perfect resilience, renewal and beauty, just when we needed it? Maybe.
Why must these possibilities be dichotomous? Why must it be either/or? Perhaps the world in which we live is one in which all of these things can be true at once.
The rose had teased my consciousness; the mystery of its appearance led me to look at saints, and at Mary figures bearing roses. I learned that St Therese is “the little Flower,” and that many believe that St Therese and Mother Mary will grace a petitioner with an unexpected rose in response to prayer. Seeing the images online, when I searched, of beautiful saintly women, or of the Divine Mother herself, holding roses in their arms, was a balm.
As someone who had nurtured a little being, I needed to see a Divine Mother caring for us, and maybe even caring for the little creatures of this world, into the next.
My own faith tradition did not have this kind of figure; but did that really matter? Are these divisions even relevant any more? Was the miracle the rose itself — or the fact that I noticed it enough to learn about other ways the Divine Mother may possibly manifest in this often-suffering world?
A few weeks before Mushroom started to fade, I was walking down our rural street; I was wrestling in my thoughts with the vast crimes committed against humanity - by Pharma, by Davos, by Tech, perhaps by Satan Himself; crimes whose documentation and witness are part of the work I do every day these days.
I felt completely overwhelmed; that any strength or skills I might have were insignificant against the monumental powers arrayed against humanity, and that I could not see a way to victory, let alone to survival of all the things we hold dear as free men and women. I was at the end of my ability to see a way ahead. “How can we ever overcome such adversaries?” I asked — Whoever was out there.
The road had been dark, as evening was falling, and the Taconic mountain range had been in shadow. But as I glanced up, the entire massive range of mountains lit up slowly, from one end to the other, with a blazing golden light. All of it — half a state’s length of pure gold light overspread the entire face of the mountain range, and extended hundreds of feet high into the evening sky.
I started laughing.
It was as if God was saying, “Don’t be so silly. Just look at me.”
Was the depth of my despair answered by a massive blaze of gold, just when I needed a miracle?
Or was the miracle simply that I happened to look up and notice something I usually overlook - that miracles are simply all around us?
Or could it be both?
What is a miracle?