From the Daily Office Lectionary for Monday in the week of Proper 29, Year 1 (Christ the King, 2015)
Joel 3:14-15 ~ Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
This morning I am stumbling through the darkened valley of decision. I was pretty certain that this might the day I would have to take my dog to the veterinarian for the last time, that I would be saying “Good bye” to my almost-daily companion of the last eight years. I wished there might have been “multitudes, multitudes” who could share this burden. A sorrow shared is half a sorrow, they say, although I don’t know whether that’s actually the case. Shared or unshared, sorrow is still soul shatteringly deep.
It was 8-1/2 years ago that my wife’s co-worker, knowing that we were about year out from having lost another cocker spaniel (Josephine – “the best dog ever” we still call that little girl), said “We have a stray cocker spaniel . . . ” – my wife’s associate was then president of a local “rescue” organization.
“Let’s just go meet her,” my wife said to me. I laughed out loud! “Meet her?” I answered. “If we meet her, we’ll bring her home!”
Well, obviously, we did meet her, and when she came home with us we named her Fionnaghuala (usually just Fionna or even Fi). She didn’t like me, at all. She didn’t like large, bald men in general. There was some speculation that she might have been abused by someone of my description. Eventually, however, she got used to me although it took her a while longer to be comfortable with other bald men; I’d had her only about three or four months when she bit a parishioner who reached out his hand toward her in friendly, but rather to rapid gesture.
She has gone to the office with me almost every day since that first meeting. She has gone on pastoral visits. She has played with parishioner children and nuzzled the hands of aged church members. She has insisted that the bereaved who have come to plan funerals forget their grief for a minute or two to scratch her ears. She has filled the silence of a lonely church office with her soft, snuffling snore.
But several months ago she developed a heart murmur, which revealed an enlarged heart, which developed into congestive heart failure. Medication has, until the last few days, relieved her symptoms, but it’s clear now that her heart is giving out. She is easily exhausted even just stepping outside to “do her business”; she has dad little interest in eating; she pants and whimpers in her sleep.
So, today, I am in the valley of decision. We went to see the vet. A shot, some special food, another day, another week, maybe another month. But I know the day is coming soon. I have been here before – with Josephine and Rascal and Kelly and Shadrak and Tina and Baron . . . and every time I have said “Never again” and every time . . . . Yes, I’ve been here before.
That’s the nature of the valley of decision. The Lord may have promised the Israelites that “strangers shall never again pass through” Jerusalem (v. 17), but somehow the valley of decision is a place we pass through many times. “Never again” never seems to work out that way!
So, it wasn’t today, but I’m pretty certain that some day soon, I will have to take my dog to the veterinarian for the last time, that I’ll be saying “Good bye.” And I will probably say, “Never again!” And nonetheless, I will also, probably, some day, be back in the valley of decision.