FIRST PERSON: The joys of a man and his dog
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--Born Oct. 25, 1997, Chuck's Oro Negro (Kennel Club official name Chuck's Black Gold) or Noche, as he would be know in 49 states, died in my arms June 1. He has been featured in USA Today and about six other major papers, has taken a swim in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico, appears in official presidential portraits at Southeastern and Southwestern seminaries, did more than 50 sportsman shows, hunted bobcat, mountain lion and turkey (he believed himself to be a hound), welcomed hundreds of visitors and new students to the seminaries his president served, and protected presidential residences at Magnolia Hill in North Carolina and Pecan Manor in Texas.
Noche was a born hunter and lover of adventure. He would enter the chase and beat the hounds to the prey, but he was a fullback; and if the chase changed directions, Noche usually got a roll in the cactus. Up immediately he was undeterred by suffering or pain and would pursue until he dropped. He pouted terribly during our frequent absences but loved the staff and served them faithfully.
But despite his colorful and well-known life, he was in most ways no different from your beloved four-legged, tail-wagging friend; and when you lose such a trusted companion, the agony induced makes you wonder why you do this to yourself. I am sure to awaken massive human condemnation for saying that the Bible records nothing of pet afterlife. Insofar as can be determined from the Scriptures, animals have no "soul," the creation of God unique to man and angels. In fact, I have often suspected that this fact is why it hurts so profoundly to part with a beloved pet. I would not be surprised if heaven sports an almost infinite variety of animals since there we have responsibilities and the Lord has prepared a place for us far better than here. The Bible does say, "A righteous man regards the life of his animal" (Proverbs 12:10).
And that, in part, is why to know and keep animals is a noble enterprise. Much is learned from the experience of loving and caring for them. Noche, as best we could discern, had a recognition vocabulary of more than 80 words and would clearly make known to us by the tone and pitch of his bark with a little assistance from body language whether he was angry, elated, disgusted, hungry, ready to go (always) and even what kind of critter he was chasing. He kept my son, Armour, and then me from being bitten by a poisonous snake.
He was the patron of little girls, babysitting our grandchildren, and standing between the street and even little girls who to him were perfect strangers. Even men he knew well learned not to enter Pecan Manor if only ladies were in the house. Though as gentle and affectionate as a snow rabbit, he was an incredible watchdog, though thankfully, he never had to turn threat to action. Even in his antiquity he remained the epitome of gentleness until death from cancer took him at 14 1/2 years of age. He was the regal campus fixture, loved by just about everyone. His death left a sad campus and heart-broken owners.
My friend Richard Land loves to ridicule me about what he calls my "personal metanarrative" of being the West Texas outdoor tough with emotions of granite. If he could have seen me when Noche's heart stopped, the granite had crumbled. How I wish I could hide those emotions somewhere so deep inside that none would ever see them displayed. Even the most jaded of men have such emotions, but some seem to mask them much better than I. Hymns about the atonement of Christ or the lost of the world always wring tears from my soul so that I often cannot join the chorus or sometimes continue a sermon about the cross uninterrupted. So Noche exposed the myth for what it is.
With so many more important things and far more profound sorrows afflicting the souls of men, why write a tribute to a dog? Well, it is called gratitude -- gratitude to God, to Noche, and to Mary (more about her in a minute). I am grateful to God that He allowed me to have the comfort of one canine friend for nearly 15 years. I am grateful that Noche suffered hardly at all -- went on a successful hunt only two weeks prior to his death. I am grateful for Armour, who sacrificially gave me Noche to be in the president's home and took my Walker Hound who, shall we say, was not predestined to such a lifestyle. Noche's grave tells the story of his life, "For he refreshes the soul of his masters" (Proverbs 25:13).
But the real story is Mary, the daughter of Southwestern dean Waylan Owens and his wife Betsy. What a charmer! This is a little complicated, so follow carefully the goodness and kindness of the Lord.
Mary confessed to someone at church last Christmas that she hoped for a puppy but knew that her dad would not allow it. What an unbelievable opportunity! I could do two things with one Christmas gift: totally terrify and discombobulate Mary's father while at the same moment giving a young Chinese-born girl her best Christmas ever! I mean, isn't this the essence of fun? That beautiful little white Labrador retriever puppy has grown to be a magnificent specimen -- Luke by name, 85 pounds of regal majesty.
Meanwhile, Noche's daughter, Shadow -- black as her father -- belonged to seminary vice president Thomas White and his wife Joy. Unknown to me, someone played matchmaker and Shadow and Luke had two pups, both black as midnight in a cypress swamp. Imagine my surprise when Mary showed up at Pecan Manor carrying a little black "Noche" and placed him in my arms. She had given me a puppy, nearly an exact replica of his grandfather, Noche. Fortunately, I restrained the tears better at that moment than as I write this. Now, I do miss Old Noche, but as I write, Chayil ben Noche Segundo (we call him Chayil, the Hebrew word for "valiant") lies napping at my feet! He is an eight-week-old, 17-pound sweetheart who steals the hearts of all who see him. Noche's grandson!
Do you see how gracious is the Lord? And all of this pales before our salvation, our families, our churches, and our human friends. So we join Qoheleth in his conclusion that there is a time to die, to lose and to weep. And we do weep with every memory of Noche. But there is also a time to be born and a time to laugh. He who allows temporary sorrows to obscure the kindness, love and generosity of God is not a wise man. Death reveals in perhaps the most real way what we already know about this world. It is fallen and crying out to be redeemed. Yet God's grace -- ever present even in this world -- offers the promise of redemption to all who will call upon the name of the Lord, and the joys of a man and his dog give a mere glimpse of what the new heaven and the earth will hold for those adopted into the family of God.
Paige Patterson is president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu).