Monday, January 19, 2015

Pet Heaven


The question of whether pets go to heaven seems these days to be getting ever greater attention, almost as much as in long ago days the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin. Just now (January 17, 2115) the New York Times has dedicated a column by Mark Oppenheimer to it, under the headline “From Seminary to Cemetery, Fascination Persists Over Pets and the Afterlife.”

It is at least as troubling to pet owners as the matter of who designed the Emperor’s new clothes is to the rest of us. My guess is Ralph Lauren, specialist in lost causes, who once informed New York magazine that he could produce several hundred signatures to a demand for my dismissal as drama critic.

To be sure, since there is no heaven even for humans (who admittedly are less deserving of one than, say, Lassie or Mehitabel, if there were such a place), the question is a fairly academical one. There is not even a word for going to it in English—as in the German Himmelfahrt—other than “ascension,” which, to me, rather suggests elevators, and seems un worthy of a pious quadruped. So why not grant afterlife to a deserving pooch or tabby in, say, a comfy black hole, the kind that, according to Professor Stanley Brandes of Berkeley is memorialized on actual tombstones with such epitaphs as “Until We Meet in Heaven” or, for a boxer aptly named Champ, “We Pray That We Will Meet Again.”

Since pet owners are given to conversing with their dogs and cats, how easy it would be for them to say, “I’m reserving a spot for you in Heaven,” to the great relief of either the speaker or hearer, the two- or four-foot animal. This would guarantee  for Spot an endlessly chewable bone, and for Kitty, an inexhaustible saucer of milk.

Quite rightly Oppenheimer observes that “our sense of spiritual kinship is already latent in the bootees and little sweaters we buy our pets”—the cats, bless them, will have none of such paraphernalia—so why should tiny passports to Paradise give pause to booteed paws? I recall Alexander Pope’s couplet for the collar of the Prince of Wales’s pet, ‘I am His Highness’s dog at Kew,/ Pray tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?” If so literate, why couldn’t loyal Fido share the Marine Corps’s motto, Semper Fidelis?

And now good news: the present inclusionist pope has said, “Paradise is open to all God’s creatures.” If so, does that include mosquitoes, cockroaches, tarantulas? Also bedbugs, with which our apartment has been recently infected and took the devil of a time to be gotten rid of. The way those pests performed their molestations; I am sure the male ones earned their 72 virgin females in bedbug heaven.

The Times article further informed us, “’Today there are nearly 600 functioning pet cemeteries in the United States,’” as Amy Defibaugh, a Temple University graduate student, read out from her paper at the recent American Academy of Religion conference in San Diego. Entitled as the paper was—“Toward the Weeping Willow: An Examination of the Dying and Death of Companion Animals”-- it sounds to me like a Ph.D. thesis in the University’s putative Animal Studies Department, although I cannot quite understand the bit about the Weeping Willow: does it mourn the decrease of dogs to bestow their fertilizing urine on its trunk?

So too it was comforting to gather that religion, so useful for the spiritual peace of humans, extends its beneficence to pets. We read in the Times that a cat named Corky lies beneath a gravestone with a Star of David, while  “a dog named Sushi has two Stars of David symmetrically placed at the top of his gravestone, on which there is also Hebrew lettering that reads Shalom.” On the headstone of a cat named Sheebah one reads that she “went to Heaven on Yom Kippur Day.” I am not sure whether these Jewish epitaphs are cited as a mark of philo- or anti-Semitism, but I certainly hope that other religions will duly follow suit.

It strikes me as unfair for a dog no to get his 72 virgin bitches in Paradise, or that the chaster tomcats are not granted 72 virgin pussies.  Most laudable is Nancy Tillman’s book, “The Heaven of Animals,” in which she assured grieving pet owners that “when dogs go to heaven, they’re welcomed by name (surely Rover and Bowser are as good as Gabriel and Raphael), and angels know every dog’s favorite games.” I can just hear an encouraging “How about some fetch, Fido?” in a melodious, angelic voice, which should make any dog feel right at home. Wings, by the way, if issued to dogs, should make fetching ever so much easier.

Ms. Tillman, a nondenominational Christian in Portland, Oregon, comments about her dog’s and cat’s rapt, faraway gazes, “What a lovely thought if they see heaven,” rather than, I suppose, the next helping of Purina. Even more encouraging is Cynthia Rylant, author of the egalitarian “Dog Heaven” and “Cat Heaven” lest she be accused of partiality. In the former, she avers that “God has a sense of humor, so He makes His biscuits in funny shapes for his dogs. There are kitty-cat biscuits and squirrel biscuits.” Gratifyingly, they must feel that they are symbolically consuming their traditional victims, cats and squirrels.

The best news that the quizzically named grad student, Ms. Defibaugh, conveys to us in her paper, that “many funeral homes have extended their services to companion animals for memorials and religious services” and that “Some human cemeteries are now allowing companion animal burial.”  I like her term “companion animal” for pets; it somehow makes it sound as if those canines and felines had freely adopted their bipeds as partners. And perhaps in a way they have. But what about those Weeping Willows?


 


27 comments:

  1. John, you could have included Robert Louis Stevenson's take on the subject: “You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.” Hope you are well.

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  2. It's a honied beehive, dear,
    That turns into a chandelier!
    The fin-de-siècle you see.
    What about the last century?
    The crashing down of the WTC.

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    1. The last line should rhyme with 'dear' and 'chandelier'. Would have been better. Whatever.

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  3. I'd like to take my cue from James Thurber: "If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons."

    I'd like to take my cue from James Thurber, except that I am no dog-lover.

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  4. First off, I'm glad to see another post from Simon. Dude is a killer writer. But!! he doesn't know what happens after you die. Even if you went to Harvard, you don't know that shit. Think of how vast this friggin' universe is, and then you'll know, that nobody knows anything. Anything is possible. You have a closed mind, and think flesh rots, but maybe that's not all there is. It probably is, but you never know. I want to get to know my Grandfather. Maybe in some way, he's out there.

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    1. Forget about this last post. I don't believe in heaven anymore. Yeah, some stuff went down, and now I don't think there is. Forget it. No way is there a heaven. My girlfriend dumped me.
      Well, unless God set something up out there in the western territory of the universe, I'm pretty sure there isn't any afterlife. Damn it! I was looking forward to seeing that Jimmy Stewart character up there. Maybe the Joads are up there looking at new heaven candidates like they were going to kick their asses. Ma Joad packed a wallop. The Joads are probably the security force in heaven, if there is one, which I doubt that there is. Crap, I wanted to meet my grandfather, or Jimmy Stewart, or something.
      How can this be everything? Everything sucks really badly, so there's got to be something else. Come on!

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    2. You could always get a pet...

      How about that Thomas Mann story 'Tobias Mindernickel'? That poor dog!

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    3. I just Googled that story. Mindernickel sounds like my kind of guy. He stabs his dog so he can help it get better. What a guy!

      My friend had a pet snake years ago. That thing wrapped around my left wrist one night and wouldn't let go. They were going to take me to the hospital, but then it just loosened up and crawled away. Creepy bastard.

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    4. The snake must have liked you....

      Speaking of wrapping around something, check out this amazing 1964 recital of Renata Scotto in Moscow -- she holds some extended high notes that are like bodies you can wrap yourself around. I never heard of this recital before, even though I'm a recovering ex-subscriber to 'Opera News':

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi2fK1406Ck

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    5. Nooch, I love this! Beautiful.

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    6. Yeah, it's so good I bought the MP3s from Amazon -- it was originally a Melodiya LP:

      http://tinyurl.com/Scotto-in-Moscow-MP3s

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    7. Nooch, I don't know much opera. Where would you recommend a beginner start? I know a couple of Mozart's, and love them, but not much else.

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    8. I like these excerpts from William Mayer's opera 'A Death in the Family', based on the novel by James Agee:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6g6jqgr-i0

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    9. Here’s a clip from an avant-garde opera titled 'Many Many Women' — I don’t know why I like it so much — it’s almost like modernist secular Gregorian chant, with lyrics taken from writings of St. Gertrude Stein:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWQSbqJALmc

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    10. Nooch, wasn't this Stein piece a deleted song off of "Magical Mystery Tour"?

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    11. It may be, and I think it was commissioned by the Church of Saint Quentin Crisp (PBUH), with additional funding by the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church:

      http://www.coltranechurch.org/

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  5. I get bummed out when I remember my dog will die some day, but then I remember that the little butt-licker could outlive me! Gosh, he'd miss me....

    Here's a gem of an excerpt from John Derbyshire's book 'We Are Doomed':

    It may indeed seem wacky for a suicide bomber to expect he will find seventy-two virgins waiting for him in the afterlife; but what is it that Christians expect? Here is one of them, an exceptionally brilliant, literate, well-educated, and theologically erudite one, the English-Catholic historian Paul Johnson in his 1996 religious apologia 'The Quest for God':

    'Those who find themselves in Hell—if anyone does—will include painters and composers and writers and philosophers as well as dictators and tyrants. A man, like Beethoven, who saw himself, through the sublimity of his work, as an intermediary between God and man, was walking close to the precipice. So was Tolstoy, whose idea of his own moral righteousness and importance led him, at times, to see himself…as “God’s elder brother.” Picasso, in his old age, fancied himself as an art-god, a painter endowed not just with skill and intelligence…but as a special being.'

    Beethoven! Tolstoy! Picasso! Sounds like Mark Twain was right: “Heaven for climate, Hell for company.”

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  6. If there's a heaven for cats, it might look like this:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2933115/The-man-turned-house-feline-fantasy-Builder-creates-utopia-14-cats-complete-ledges-tunnels-soothing-music.html

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  7. Rod McKuen, late of Beverly Hills, poet to the masses and multi-millionaire, was apparently also a composer of highbrow music, some of it for piano --- someone put the slow mvt. of his third piano concerto up on YouTube, it's rather anodyne, but has some lovely bits:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_VCNyRuZG8

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  8. http://archive.tvo.org/video/165274/critic

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    1. Great stuff! That Elwy Yost is a hoot, I love his enthusiasm. Wikipedia tells me his son Graham Yost wrote the script for 'Speed', which Mr. Simon liked, mostly b/c he was enamored of Sandra Bullock.

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  9. Thank you, Mr. Simon. Rilke, I think, captured the particular cruelty we inflict on dogs when he wrote In a letter: "We help them up into a soul for which there is no heaven."

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  10. Ralph Lauren was not a specialist in lost causes.This asshole was finally fired from New York!And he always said he was writing for prosperity.I guess I that's why the article was dated 2115.What kind of illiterate would write that?

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