Our dear Bongo - sweet pup, best friend, furry uncle and co-host at Fall Creek Abbey - left us this Christmas Eve. He was just shy of 16 years old. Bongo was an Australian Shepherd, not exactly the ideal retreat house pet ( I swear he shed more hair than he grew!). He was loved and adored by everyone who visited. In fact, early on we listed him on our website as one of our resident spiritual directors. I believe he was that to many of our guests. I know he was to me. He was the most emotionally attuned dog I’ve ever known. If there were tears in the room he was there, offering a gentle presence that comforted and communicated solidarity in suffering.
He came into our lives after the most devastating loss Beth and I had experienced. We joked (probably not untrue) that he saved us thousands of dollars in therapy bills! But no doubt about it, he did save us. His boundless puppy wonder and curiosity reintroduced us to joy in a way we wondered if we would ever know again. I spent countless hours walking him in nearby woods and fields in what we knew together as Green Church (you see institutional church was what we needed to recover from). I’ve told a few friends over the past few days how “He was a great source of healing for me at the lowest point of my journey. I’m not certain I’d be half-as-whole or even on the Path were it not for him.”
I don’t think I can try to really sum up what this past decade-and-a-half have meant to us. It seems like it’s the little things that stand out now. His blue eye and his brown eye - one of spirit and one of earth. The way he took his lead in his mouth and took US for a walk. How he loved to lick the last bit of almond butter off my morning breakfast plate. The way he chased scores of Canadian geese on the golf course we lived by. The gentle way he consented to the littlest Boorams who loved to chase him. The simple act of feeding him while the coffee brewed. And the certain knowledge that when I returned and opened the back door he would be there waiting.
On the last morning with Bongo, I sensed the time was approaching for him to leave. My theme for Advent has been “waiting.” And in part, I have wondered if I was waiting for him to leave us. I had some premonition that we were approaching the end. So on the morning of Christmas Eve I took some time to journal, to try to pray and feel my way through this terrible moment. At the end of my struggling to gain clarity it was as if I heard him say the following words. I tear up just writing them again.
“I’m tired daddy. Let me go. You’ve given me enough. Thank you, my dearest human friend.”
I treasure his words to me, as I treasure our last walk up the block and our final hours together. It’s a funny thing. I hear his voice in my head now as a human voice now that he’s left us. I can only hope that his spirit continues to reassure me as I move into the days of his absence.
If any of you have memories of Bongo, we would love for you to share them. We realize that Bongo had many, many human friends who each had their own unique relationship with him. The pictures in this post were my first and last picture with my best friend, Bongo. Thank you all for sharing our grief and our joy.