Of Dogs and Elections


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“On Monday morning, a few hours before my dog was killed, I was furious with my neighbors.

Another poster for the opposing political party had gone up on another lawn. I was swamped with a sense of disappointment and betrayal. I questioned the very foundations of our relationships—people that I’d previously thought of as intelligent, kind, and thoughtful, now seemed ignorant and dangerous….”

Author: Diana Abu-Jaber is an award-winning author and teaches at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon
Published in: Huntington News in Huntington, West Virginia
Date: October 31, 2008

For the full article:
Of Dogs and Elections
(670 words)
by Diana Abu-Jaber

On Monday morning, a few hours before my dog was killed, I was furious with my neighbors.

Another poster for the opposing political party had gone up on another lawn. I was swamped with a sense of disappointment and betrayal. I questioned the very foundations of our relationships—people that I’d previously thought of as intelligent, kind, and thoughtful, now seemed ignorant and dangerous.

I wondered how crucial political beliefs were to friendship. I wondered if we should move out of our neighborhood.

That afternoon, our dog Yogi stepped into the street and was killed instantly. The driver was speeding through our quiet street, undoubtedly talking on his cell phone. At the moment, these details all seemed so important, somehow, as if we could argue for her life later in heavenly court and find her worthy of existing.

But as the weeks slip past, I find my focus slips as well. Unmoored, I look from Yogi’s death back to her life, trying to reclaim her.

If ever there was a creature that justified her own existence, our little Italian greyhound was it. Many dog-owners know this phenomenon—when you walk down the street and total strangers know your pet’s name and seem to have somehow established a whole friendship with your animal apart from you.

Such a wide variety of people knew her on sight that there were times I suspected that Yogi had to be slipping away at night to join bowling leagues, attend monster truck rallies, and practice ballroom dancing.

She was multifaceted in her talents, including the ability to appear in different parts of the rooms instantaneously, leading certain of our friends to refer to her as “the Vampire Yogi-Lestat.”

Loving Yogi taught me that each and every being in the animal kingdom is as unique as every human, fully endowed with his or her own personality. And just as there are insurance actuaries in the human world, so too are there the animal equivalent of insurance actuaries. I’m not meaning to imply anything negative about insurance actuaries, here, but only to say that Yogi had a very different career path.

She struck me as more of a wedding organizer—one of those fashionable, hyper women who zips around checking everyone’s seating arrangements, snips at the caterers, barks at the florist, and dances too much at the reception.

But Yogi’s greatest talent of all, if I had to pick one, was probably the receiving line. She welcomed each and every one of us in the human world with absolutely open arms—even the sorts of people you didn’t particularly want to invite to the wedding—crazy, scary-looking people, for example. Yogi loved them most of all. And, wouldn’t you know it—they loved her right back.

It seems that a terrible clarity of vision comes with grief. Appearances are stripped away and what’s most critical rises up: love is what’s important: our children, our animals, each other, our earth. That’s about it.

After she was gone, I found that I didn’t care quite as much about who becomes president or city commissioner, only that from elections, certain things have to occur: namely, we have to learn how to live in peace and cooperation with the world. We have to learn how to share our resources. We have to learn how to respect the earth. We have to learn to respect each other, even our deepest differences.

Yogi couldn’t have cared less about what someone looked like or sounded like, she didn’t care about promises for the future or even much about what’d happened in the past. For her it was all about the divine possibility of the moment, the genuine spark of connection between all beings.

She was named Yogi because we could tell, from her earliest puppy hood, that she was both cartoon character and spiritual leader. This, it seems is one of her best lessons as we head to the voting booth—to remember what really matters and to remember to laugh about it too.

Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of the award-winning novels ORIGIN and CRESCENT; and the memoir, THE LANGUAGE OF BAKLAVA. She teaches at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.