“He is with Spirit” is an expression I learned years ago when I moved to the Bible Belt. Though not a churchgoer, I did find myself in church several times a month during the years I worked at a University in a home for autistic adults. Every Sunday we’d take a crew to church, usually this particular all-black church where the members were extremely welcoming and we felt at home in. There I got to witness first-hand, and on a regular basis, what it looks like to “be with Spirit” – waving arms, wild dancing, crying with joy and speaking in tongues. Years later, when Barkley showed up to tell me he was moving in, I realized not only humans can “be with Spirit.”
Barkley loves to run, and often runs just for the pleasure of it. It is during this time when he is most vulnerable to “The Spirit”. Often his excitement level suddenly surges, he gets this wildly happy expression on his face – big smile, jowls flapping, tongue waggling from the corner of his mouth, his eyes wide-open and crazy, and I realize, The Spirit has him! His usually circuitous running routes turn into straight-line, high-speed sprints, grass and dirt flying, streaking from the front of his yard to the back fence almost half a football field away, to stop, spin around, and bolt right back. This will go on for five or more 30 yard-length sprints, with me cheering him on, clapping and laughing at the spectacle of animated high-speed joy as it dashes by, brushing against my legs. At some point his eyes will clear a bit and he flops down, panting, a look of complete fulfillment, his flapping tongue protruding so far out I wonder how all that tongue can fit into his mouth.
But there is a dark side to this – this one particular time Barkley was “with Spirit” that will live in infamy. The day was in November, 2015. Slate-gray, damp, cold, foreboding.
It was late morning, my day off, when I greeted Barkley, an outdoor dog (he is the only dog known to turn into an actual EF-5, multi-vortex tornado when in an indoor environment. Destruction is total). I was particularly glad to be off, my joy was infectious, and the next thing I know Barkley takes off in his circuitous happy-to-be-alive running routine with his human laughing and clapping him on. After one or two times around it happened. His eyes, his face… the Spirit was with him! He turned from the far fence and bolted straight-line right at me.
Once I witnessed attack jets from the Colorado National Guard practicing strafing and bombing runs. The tank-like A-7s often flew just above the tower, their wind very strong; pure, solid steel streaking by so close to the observation tower – – such energy and power! So humbling! Barkley’s close passes reminded me of the force emitted by those attack jets. But those jets were instruments of awesome destructive power. I thought Barkley was just the opposite – an instrument of pure joy and light in spite of the obvious power behind his speed. How wrong I was.
He brushed my legs on his first pass, turned, streaked back at me, and brushed by me like lightning on his second pass.
His third pass began just like the first two. He spun around at the fence and bolted, wild look, flapping tongue, flapping ears, crazy, happy wide-open eyes, his human laughing and clapping him on. It all happened so quickly…. It turned into a horror. Barkley was not going to brush by me this time. I clearly remember his battering-ram head with his wild-eyed, goofy expression milliseconds from directly impacting my right knee and realizing, “He’s taking me down!” And he did….
One of the lessons I learned from this was how subjective the passage of time is. The force of his collision thrust my knee backward to such an extent I still can’t believe my leg didn’t snap in half, but neither the pain signals had yet to make it to my brain, nor had my facial expression had time to register this new development; it was still displaying joy and exuberance. Had a photo been snapped of this precise moment it would have shown a human with his leg angled at the knee, obscenely bent the opposite direction a leg is supposed to bend. But the facial expression of the victim shows positive feelings, if not outright glee. It wasn’t until I was halfway to the ground before the pain registered. I was three-quarters of the way down before my expression started changing to reflect the flood of unanticipated information finally hitting my brain. Nine-tenths of the way down a question suddenly burst forward: Why?!
By the time my back hit the damp earth my brain was frantically sending signals to my face to register the appropriate expression and to my vocal chords to make the appropriate noises – a scream of pain, anguish, and confusion. Why? Why did he do this to me? How could this be?
Time returned to normal as I grasped my knee and rolled around in the leaves, moaning and howling as the dog continued being “with Spirit”. I covered my head when I heard the crashing of his paws approaching at the speed of sound, to see a white flash as he leaped over me and feel a fleeting sense of relief. The pain was all-consuming, but I still had the presence of mind to cover my head and face again as he surged back at me, to flash overhead…. and then it all became a blur….
I walked with a limp for almost 6 months. For not quite a year my limp would return sporadically.
Did “The Devil” suddenly possess him on that fateful third pass? Did “The Spirit” suddenly remember some sin I committed and decided to punish me, using Barkley as his vehicle? Or did The Dog decide, “Oh what the hell…”?
So now, whenever my dog gets possessed, I plaster myself against the fence or put a tree trunk between me and the speeding, rapturous hound. In fact, just last night when I returned from work and went in the back yard to find him, I first heard the jingle of his collar, then his footfall, realized with a twinge of fear that he was sprinting at me at high-speed from the darkness, I hugged the fence and winced, the terrifying flashback of that horrible morning replaying itself. But for nought. I was safe. He did not crash into my right knee. Or any knee. Thus today, from the security of a tree or the fence, I have returned to my traditional role of laughing and clapping him on when he is “filled with Spirit.” But I will never forget….
(Take the head of the dog in the first photo and stick it on the body of the dog in the second photo to get an accurate image of subject the millisecond before the Collision of November, 2015. Top photo was just before strike at waist-level. Lower photo shows dog just before strike at knee-level, his expression showing he is beyond the point of no return and is fully committed to impact.)