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  • Let's start with the understanding that I am not a dog person. Never was. I like dogs in the same way I like people - something about them has to specifically appeal to me, intrigue me. I don't just "love dogs" anymore than I would say I "love people."

    Most people are idiots. And most dogs are annoying.

    I don't like yapping dogs, smelly dogs, hyper dogs or (what I deem to be) unattractive dogs. I do not frequent animal shelters and when I hear people talking baby talk to their pets I wince. Always have done.

    And then came Hank.

    A rescued hound dog, Hank was found emaciated and near death by a friend of mine hiking in the Carolinas. My friend and his hiking buddy climbed down, picked up the dog and carried him miles to his car, then drove back home to FL. He and his wife have been fostering it back to health, very successfully. And they named him Hank.

    Now that is both obvious and curious to me in itself, as Hank sounds like a perfect name for a hound dog but is also the name of a very dear friend of mine - a friend who had a serious scare that changed his life. He suffered a stroke that left him temporarily speechless and shifted his views and priorities on a lot of things. When he came out of it fully functioning, miraculously it seemed, he declared a commitment to his health first and foremost, and a declaration in a belief system never previously considered by this adamant atheist.

    "The Church of the Unknowable God" he calls it.

    His wife still shakes her head every time he says it.

    Hank says he realized it's impossible that there is "nothing." He felt sure that there is something, some cosmic force, greater and more complex than we can comprehend. Unknowable. He considered creating an actual church that could serve as a community to artists and makers and people like him who had no interest in conventional religion but wanted to get together once a week or so...

    "That's an art project, not a church" his wife chided, not seeing any long term prospects in it.

    I see her point, but fully agree with him too. The concept of utter randomness and coincidence doesn't sit well with me. I just don't buy it. The fact that we look for meaning and can create it for ourselves with measurable effect - heart rates calm, bodies can heal themselves of illness - all point toward something bigger than our sorry little human lives at work. Hank and I talk a lot about the unknowable god, particularly when strange coincidences happen and people cross paths at certain points in their lives because they need to. How when you pay attention to it, honor it, you can see the glory in it quickly, making you that much more astute to spot it next time...

    Invariably when we are all together, it will be me and Hank getting excited about something - some story we see an added layer involved, "you know what I mean, don't you?" "YES! I KNOW!" The Church of the Unknowable God! It takes one to know one..." We are like little kids in these moments, or playful puppies if you put it into dog terms. Which brings me to the other Hank. Hank the hound.

    I met hound dog Hank just five days ago and my world has shifted. For real. I am obsessed, staying up late doing research or writing (voila!) I've been waking up early without an alarm, racing off to hit the beach and walk for hour at sunrise. I've shed three pounds without even trying and have boundless energy. I know these signs, I've been here before. I'm in love.

    With Hank. The hound!

    So here's how it happened:
    I was sitting in the coffee shop and spotted friends a few tables over - the friends who rescued the dog a few months ago. I had seen the photos and it didn't even occur to me that this could be the same dog. I had seen the photos - 35 pounds of skin and bones. He didn't look like he had much of a chance... Out from under the table walks this handsome lad. Floppy ears, sad kind eyes, beautiful coat. Muscular and middle aged. He walks over to me and sort of presses against my leg, encouraging me to pet him. I do, and before I even know it, I am sitting on the floor with him, rubbing those velvety ears. My husband cocks his head to the side, like a dog himself, wondering what had gotten into me. I finally got up to leave and said to him outside "I need that dog."

    "OK" he said.

    We rode our bikes home. "So about Hank, I really like him. I think we should adopt him."

    "OK" he said.

    Later that night - "we REALLY need to talk about this - I think we NEED that dog!"

    OK!" he says. "I already told you - yes, fine. I agree. I've always wanted a dog, you never have, so if you feel like you connect with Hank, then yes, we should get him. I agree!"

    Huh. Well then.

    So the husband left town on business on Monday and I started dating Hank. We went out to dinner on Tuesday and he lounged underneath my chair. We went for a walk on the beach on Wednesday and he was completely obedient by my side. I scratched his ears and said "you are such a good boy" and I knew by the look on his face that he understood me. Perfectly. I didn't get to see him today and was distracted all day. My walk on the beach felt empty, hollow. I kept scanning the horizon to see if he'd appear with my friend. His bright orange leash visible at a distance and that springy step. Tail held high in the air.

    Does he miss me? Does he like me as much as I like him? Could them not walking this morning mean that my friend is having second thoughts - she doesn't want to let Hank go? She said that she stayed up too late watching the country music awards but maybe not? Maybe she just doesn't want me to spend any more time with Hank? Two women - one dog! Ugh. Handwringing, this all is.

    My unknowable god is clearly up to something on this one.

    In that way that happens when you meet someone and fall in love, I've started looking for signs, crafting storylines that all point to the fate involved in our meeting, our connected stars in a shared diamond speckled constellation. In the case of me and Hank, it has to do with the ravine.

    If you are able to follow this zigzagging storyline, you'll remember that Hank was rescued in a ravine. Well, this transpired exactly two days from the date our neighbor died in a ravine, in another state. It was a horrible shock - a 25 year old young man, perfectly healthy and an Army Reservist. Newly married. A freak accident. He was running through the woods and disappeared from his pack of friends during a lunchtime break. They got back to the office, expecting to find him there - it was really hot that day so they figured that maybe he bailed, cut off the trail and headed back to work. But no. He wasn't there.

    They called the police and a hunt began. He was found dead in the bottom of a ravine. No foul play was expected. They surmise that he either collapsed from heat exhaustion and fell, or had an undiagnosed heart problem and had a fatal heart attack.

    When I heard the news about Chris my reaction was intense, more than I would've guessed. As a mother, the thought of losing one of my children is my biggest fear, my monster under the bed. Sobbing uncontrollably, I was thinking about Jen, his mom, and how could she possibly have heard, and live through, the news. When I told my son Spencer, his reaction was equally intense. Spence grew up with this pack of boys, knew them all as best friends and brothers his whole life, since the age of 5. Seeing my my big dog of a 20 year old crying like an injured toddler in my arms at the news and thinking "what if..." was gut wrenching.

    It took me at least week to write a sympathy card, because I couldn't find the words. I finally said "I have to believe that your son's spirit was needed elsewhere. He was called to do something greater, somewhere else." Not quite the fate that they believe in as religious folks but my version of a spontaneous "you - here - now" type of scenario where the unknowable god pulls the energy out of one living thing and draws it down into something else. As a gardener, I know for a fact that nothing is wasted. One thing dies and is recycled into compost to support the growth of something else. It's a closed circle system - everything affects everything else. Where and what Chris is now I have no way of knowing. But I don't think he's up in the clouds cavorting with humans he once knew and loved. He's more likely to be here right now, maybe in lots of things and people at once.

    Heaven is just too linear a concept for me. I've dream of dying periodically and in each case I anticipate great pain and there is none. I wake up just as the realization that there is no pain (even though I've just been shot, or crushed by a truck, etc. in the dream) and yes, the light goes white. I wake up in my bed both relieved and annoyed. I'm not afraid to die (relief), but certainly have time travel and shape shifting in my storyline. It's annoying that I never get to see what's next.

    Anyway - back to the hounds.

    Today I went to lunch with a colleague of mine and upon entering the restaurant, we heard a noise. We stopped and listened and looked over toward a pick-up truck. It was a dog whimpering.

    We looked in the back of truck and there was a dog - a gorgeous bluetick coon hound in the back, panting with thirst. It was 87 degrees outside which means easily 100+ in the confined area he was in - only a few inches of airspace. We walk into the restaurant an eyeball the room, trying to discern who might own the truck that has "Hunters Club" or something plastered on the back window.

    After sitting for a few minutes, she said "it's them" and before I can ask how she even knows, she's up on her feet, walking over to a table.

    "Excuse me? Is that your truck out there with the dog in the back?" (They nod.) "Well the dog seems really thirsty. He's panting and it's easily 100 degrees out there..."

    "He's a hunting dog. That's just what he does. Heh, heh....."


    They answered with with a condescending "Well, thank you Miss" and she turned on her heels and came back to sit down.

    "I can't believe you just did that." I said. Four grown men, 900 lbs between them.

    "Well I can't believe you knew exactly what kind of dog that was!" she replies. "It's disgusting, how some people treat their animals...."

    I liked her before. But I love her now.

    After she calmed down, she asked about Hank - "what's happening? Do you have him yet?" and also started to tell me about a book I should read. "It's called 'Emily and Einstein' and in it, a man dies and is instantly reincarnated into a dog." When she said that I got chills. I knew nothing of the book, but the storyline was something I had just been pondering.

    "OK" I said. "I know this sounds crazy, but I was just thinking this morning about our neighbor Chris. About how it's rather uncanny that Chris died in one ravine and Hank was rescued in another... within a really close time span..."

    She jumps in - "and you think maybe Chris' spirit is somehow entwined with Hank? And that's why Hank seems to know you? Because he already DOES! Like maybe Chris/Hank are coming into your life to help you through this next transition - maybe when your big dogs - your sons - leave home? You are getting close to being an empty nester...."

    I then proceeded to tell her about my friend Hank and his Church of the Unknowable God.

    She sat attentively listening, nodding her head. "Well, you know I'm Catholic. But kind of the cafeteria type - I pick and choose the parts I like. So I think reincarnation is real. And time is sort of a manufactured concept. So I guess I think anything is possible. It is weird how we just found a mistreated hound dog in the parking lot, I brought this book up to you not knowing anything about the ravines or Chris or anything..."

    There we were. Over BBQ turkey salads at Bono's. Constructing our constellation.

    "You know you need this dog" she said. "There's no question."

    I think she's right, but it's not up to me. I'm not sure my friend who is fostering him can give him up. I'm not sure he'll make it through his dental surgery tomorrow. They say he may lose all of his teeth except the canines. I'm not sure if and when he visits our house he'll like it... there are a lot of variables.

    I explained all this and she nodded.

    "Wait to see what your Unknowable God has in store on this one" she said.

    We paid the bill and quickly ran over to Target. I bought my first dog toys.
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