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  • Writer's pictureAlaric Mark Lewis

On a dachshund named Linus, a wolf, and a blind monk named Hervé

My dog Linus is fond of sitting in the windows that look out over the river and letting the people who have the audacity to walk on the riverwalk on the other side know that they are on his turf, even if a river separates them from him. Being a most cultivated beast, his vocalisation often takes the form of a kind of symphony: there is the opening sonata in which he sets a tonal mood as he first glances the offending wayfarers, beginning a pattern of barking which introduces tension followed by a resolution of sorts; there is the slow, deliberate adagio where he is seemingly wondering whether to continue, a low murmuring not unlike the sound made by a bassoon; there is the minuet, light, staccato barks which can frequently be accompanied by a sprightly dance; and there is the allegro, which sees the oeuvre to its completion, and encapsulates all the themes until - obviously spent - Maestro Linus moves away from the window/stage and collapses spent on the ottoman which a casual visitor might presume is for the easy chair in front of which it sits but is, instead, the daybed of His Esteemed Linusness.

Every now and then, however, this symphony, this Suite Linusoise, is replaced by something urgent, shocking and dissonant - more Messiaen than Mozart - and when I hear its relentless inharmoniousness, I know without even having to cast an eye across the river that The Cat is there, perched on a brick pillar, taunting Linus with his insolent and malevolent glare. When that particular canine clangour commences, there is nothing to be done but bring the curtain down - literally - and prohibit the offending beast from being able to cast his icy gaze upon the artiste on his stage/in his sitting room. And at moments such as those, I invite a most vexed Linus to join me on the sofa, hoping that a light belly rub will calm the rage that he seems helpless to contain.

What Linus doesn't know is that I have, whilst walking to church without him, encountered The Cat, who is lovely and affectionate and - dare I say it? - quite canine in his obvious desire to be cuddled. I've never had a cat in my whole life - I come from a decidedly dog family - but after several encounters with this fanciable feline, I feel like I could be won over.

But Linus? Would he ever get to the point where he could see a fellow beloved creature of God, or would The Cat always be "the other?" What would it take for him to change?

An astute observer might wonder if I'm still talking about Linus and The Cat here, or whether I just may be using them as illustrations of how we humans can so frequently regard certain folks as "the other" ...

Could Linus grow to love The Cat? That might be asking a bit too much. But could Linus see something in The Cat - such as the fluidity of movement when he, too, rolls over to have his belly rubbed - that might strike a chord in our canine composer? I think so. And I think I just need to be resolute in my desire not only to understand The Cat, but to speak and act in ways that show Linus how very connected they are - we all are - even if the river between them would suggest otherwise.

Today - the feast of Saint Hervé - is a good day to resolve to begin anew to temper some of the more beastly parts of ourselves with understanding. A great lover of animals, Hervé had enough trust in everyone's ability to change and grow that he kept a wolf as a pet. Sadly, the wolf displayed a little too much wolfishness, and completely devoured the donkey that the blind Hervé used to plow his fields. Hervé preached a sermon about the whole affair (there's a story I'd kill to have in my arsenal) and the wolf was so overcome with sorrow for what he had done that he repented. (Like cats, I don't know a lot about wolves, but my impression is that they're rarely the repenting type. Now look ... I've just gone and done it again, giving into lupine stereotypes.)  But, from that day on, having received a homiletic witness in understanding, the wolf began pulling the plow that used to be the burden of that poor munched-on donkey. Talk about walking a mile in someone else's shoes! (Or hooves, as the case may be.)

The moral of the story seems clear. How the symphony ends depends in large part how we play our part. I'll grant that Linus' mistrust and apparent hatred (or is it fear? - they're so often connected) of The Cat does not bode well for turning dissonance into a pastorale. Not to bring other animals into this already crowded menagerie, but there is a reason why folks say a leopard never changes its spots.

But then I think about that blind monk in his fields, walking behind a plow pulled by a wolf. And I think, well, anything's possible.

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