We knew her for a month before she died in a terrible accident, but Chareze Clamor touched us so profoundly that she may have well spent 15-or-more years, a whole doggie life, as part of our family.
She was only five-months. A puppy. She weighed maybe seven pounds, much of it hair. A pure Shih-Tzu, Chareze was a tiny physical presence. Ephemeral. How amazing – how enlightening and inspiring – to realize the immense power coursing through that little canine body. Spiritual power. Chareze projected a yogic calm and confidence; she was never aggressive and she was seldom afraid; she was ready to befriend every creature she encountered, even the neighborhood’s grouchiest old snarler, who quickly became Chareze’s best friend. Her secret? Chareze seemed determined to love the world, and the world was inclined to love her back.
Yes, everyone loved her. Adults and children, dogs and puppies. Even the doves in our garden.
The power of her adorable physical presence – when it was taken away from us suddenly, shockingly, our despair was intensely felt. My wife Charmaine and I both had trouble sleeping or eating for several days. (Talking with a trauma therapist helped). Until she was gone, I hadn’t fully realized how comprehensively Chareze filled my heart. You could say she cracked my heart wide open, and you would be right on, because the act of cracking does involve pain, the acute anguish of loss and remorse, but it also involves widening the aperture through which our kindness and compassion flow.
For the past seven years-or-so since my mutt Ella died, I wasn’t ready, for various reasons, to adopt another dog. (Charmaine has been ready and campaigning for a couple of years.) Chareze came into our life not by choice but by chance; we were doing a good deed. But taking her in meant getting over my lifelong prejudice against toy dogs. Within a day or two, Chareze had me convinced that no matter how small the package, the delivery girl brings as much joy to our life as a larger creature. She taught me that love is omnipresent if you let it be.
Chareze was – and I know this is going to sound crazy – Chareze was gifted. She was extraordinarily intelligent, learning new behaviors and tricks on an almost daily basis. When I was still drowning in the “if only” and “should have been” phase of my grief, I was fixated on the idea that Chareze was going to become a highly trained therapy dog, just like Ella. She seemed to have the aptitude and the composure for the job. She would have been a tremendous therapy dog. Then a friend helped me realize: Chareze already was a therapy dog. She didn’t have a license or a cute vest, but she was already doing the work. For the month she lived in our home, she healed all of us in one way or another.
And imparted many lessons. There’s that power, again. She was here briefly, she taught deeply.
One of the many things I learned is that my newly opened heart is eager for a canine friend amid the writer’s solitude. As we recovered from her loss, wouldn’t it be wonderful, we fantasized, to adopt a puppy with some of Chareze’s best qualities? Calm, happy, confident, unaggressive, affectionate, playful, smart. Not one that looked like her or was necessarily the same breed – but a puppy with Chareze’s personality and vibe. Was that possible?
Yes. Everything’s possible. The worst and the best. Tragedies happen. So do miracles.
We found Chareze’s spirit harbored in a 10-week-old mutt that may be part Shih-Tzu, and may be many other things. For her soulful eyes, we named her Billie, after Billie Holiday. The runt of her accidental litter, she grew up at a rescue ranch in Southern California, where the dogs (from pitbulls to poodles) live outdoors, uncaged. She likes being outside.
Billie Henrietta Konik has a few favorite lying down spots in her new back yard: beneath a rose bush to nibble on; atop a leaf pile near the lemon verbena; beside the geranium pot. But her joy place, the place she returns to every day, every morning, is in a stand of tall grass just across from Chareze’s grave. Something’s going on here, and I know it’s good.
Love does go on. It doesn’t end. Let us count ourselves lucky whenever our heart cracks wide open and the divine energy flows through us, for a minute, a month, a lifetime.