Jackson, the Golden Retriever who crossed over from the Living World into the afterlife waystation of Collarworld, watched the sun set along the sparkling waters of the Shore of the Cedars. This tranquil portion of Collarworld, a place where beloved pets wait in the afterlife for the glorious reunion with their masters, offered spiritual and emotional healing for all creatures who bathed and swam along the shore.
Over the years, Jackson treated the Shore of the Cedars as a personal connection between he and his mistress, who always took him to the beach on sunny days. In Collarworld, Jackson took his love of the beach and his respect for his mistress, and turned it into the opportunity to guide animals toward their own personal rebirth and baptism.
Another beautiful day in Collarworld, Jackson mused. It was a quiet day – only a few animals came to see Jackson and to experience the healing waters of the Shore of the Cedars. A couple of horses from the Oval Pastures, an elephant from the Sawdust Meadows, three Dalmatians from the Precinct 3:16 realm. A few splashes in the water, and the burdens they carried in the Living World were washed away.
Yes, Jackson smiled. Another beautiful day in Collarworld.
For a moment, Jackson’s gaze remained transfixed on the sunshine and its reflection, as the two entities wold slowly meet at the horizon. As soon as the sun sets over the horizon, the Golden Retriever mused, I’ll take a nap. It’s been a long day. A fun day, but a long day.
“May I speak with you, Lord Jackson?” came a voice.
Jackson looked behind him. Standing there was a weary, grey German Shepherd.
Instantly Jackson stood up.
“Bismarck,” the Retriever exclaimed. “What are you doing here? Is there something wrong? What’s going on?”
Jackson knew that Bismarck rarely left his self-imposed exile in the Silver Forest. He also knew that the German Shepherd still blamed himself for personal actions in the Living World, where someone’s hurtful prank caused Bismarck to attack his own master … and eventually cost Bismarck his life.
“I need to speak with you, Lord Jackson,” Bismarck slowly barked.
“Is there trouble?”
“I understand that you have the power to heal the troubles of all animals in Collarworld.”
“Sort of,” replied the retriever. “You have to be willing to accept your sins and ask for forgiveness. And then you wade through the water, and the healing waters will cleanse you of your troubles and pains.”
“Yes,” Bismarck said. “I remember this. I remember that my charge Dismas had his sins cleansed through these blessed waters.”
“Yes he did,” Jackson replied, remembering the time when a violent mixbreed dog terrorized Collarworld, only to be led by the other animals to the Shore of the Cedars, where the waters washed away the mixbreed’s violent and abhorrent training that his masters inflicted upon him. After the healing, Bismarck took the mixbreed, which he renamed Dismas, to be his student in the Silver Forest, until Dismas volunteered to be a companion for a distressed human who had entered the afterlife.
“I saw the evil that Dismas was before he was healed,” said the German Shepherd. “And I saw his penitence and contrition afterward.”
“I need to talk to you about this.”
“The healing. And this is with the strictest confidence.”
“Of course, Lord Bismarck. Who did you bring with you that needs to be healed?”
“No one,” he barked. “The healing is for me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Do you know what happened to me in the Living World?”
“Somewhat,” Jackson replied. “Vincent and others have told me that you were a professor’s dog?”
“I was,” Bismarck said. “My master was a dedicated professor at a famous university. I was his campus pet and companion. Every night he read books by the greatest writers, and he would tell me stories about all of them – writers of fiction and of fact.”
“Some of my master’s students thought they could play a practical joke on me, and they left something in my food bowl, and mixed it up with my regular food. I ate what was inside, and my head felt strange. Cloudy. I couldn’t think. And I thought someone was trying to attack my master, so I leaped up and bit the attacker on the arm as hard as I could.”
“What happened to the attacker?”
Bismarck bowed his head to the ground. “There was no attacker. Whatever those kids put in my dog dish, it caused me to see an attacker that wasn’t there. And the next thing I knew, my master’s arm was bleeding. Bleeding with punctures.”
“You didn’t – ”
“I did,” was the response. “I did the worst thing a pet could do to his master. I attacked the one human who loved me the most. Then men came and put me in a cage. A few days later, another man ruled that I was a danger, and said that I had to be put down. And when I woke up …”
“You were here in Collarworld.”
“Another man walked toward me – he tried to touch me, he said he could heal my wounds. I told him that my wounds were too deep to heal, and that I don’t belong near anyone – human or animal. I asked for exile.”
“That’s why you’ve been in the Silver Forest all this time.”
“It’s very difficult to enter the Silver Forest. Which is why, most times, I’m left alone. A few animals have come in, but I’ve chased them away. I didn’t want to be around anybody. Ever. There’s still parts of my mind that grow violent and angry, and I know it’s from what happened in the Living World – between what those students did and my response to it.”
“Bismarck, listen to me. You are not that animal any more. You have atoned for your crime many times over. You took care and guided Dismas. I heard you even rescued two cats that were about to fall off the overlook at Fred’s Chasm.”
“Did Vincent tell you that? That tabbycat promised me he would swear to secrecy – ”
“Relax. Vincent didn’t tell me. He didn’t have to. Lord Bismarck, you’ve gone through so much trauma in your life, you can’t even see the moments when you’ve achieved kindness and goodness. What those students did to you was horrible. But you didn’t ask them to do that. You were not in control.”
“But if I hadn’t consumed that food – ”
“And how would you have known that there was danger in that food bowl? Listen to me. I’ll say it one more time. Whatever happened in the Living World was not your fault.”
Bismarck continued to stare at the sandy ground.
Jackson walked over to the shoreline. “Come with me, Lord Bismarck. Walk up to the water.”
Bismarck slowly paced toward the splashing waves, his pawprints trailing in the wet sand.
“Before I ask you to step in the water, I must ask you a question.”
“Someone in this world must have said something to you that, for whatever reason, caused you to make this decision to come here.”
“Yes,” the German Shepherd whispered.
“Who was it?”
“I only know her as Cha-Cha, she’s a boxer that has visited me in the Silver Forest for the past few months. She told me she and her brother were therapy dogs and protected a battered woman from her abusive spouse.”
“And when you met Cha-Cha…”
“She came to the Silver Forest. And when she spoke with me, she didn’t treat me like a horrible monster. She wasn’t afraid of me. She didn’t ostracize me for what happened in the Living World. To her I wasn’t the monster Bismarck who attacked his master while under the control of something not part of his choosing. She talked with me. She understood me.”
“And how do you know this?”
“I don’t understand.”
Bismarck scratched at the sand. “My master was a professor of literature. He would read great novels and poems. One day, he read a poem to me, a poem about soft rains. He only read it once … but I remembered fragments of it to this day. I mentioned the poem to Cha-Cha … and she said that she knew the poem as well. And she was able to recite the parts I could not remember, and within a few days I remembered the entire poem.”
I can recite it now. If I recite it, it will remind me of the good times I had with my master.”
“I’d like to hear it.”
The waves of water rose forward, gently splashing against Bismarck’s toes. The German Shepherd felt his paws tingle with the clear, warm water against his fur.
“There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools, singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.”
“That’s beautiful,” Jackson whispered. “Very beautiful.”
“She is,” Bismarck barked. “I mean … yes, the poem is very beautiful. It’s not about the death of Man – my master told me that he knew it as the death of the evils of Man.”
“I know what you mean,” Jackson smiled. “Please, my friend, step in the water.”
One paw. Another. And slowly, the German Shepherd walked into the warm water, as the waves began to splash around him.
“In the name of St. Francis of Assisi, the lord of all animals in our realm, may your sins be cleansed with the purified holy water of the Shore of the Cedars. In his name we say, you shall be cleansed and you shall be healed.”
Bismarck ducked his head under the water for a few seconds. He could feel the water cascading over his body and washing his soul.
“You are a good dog, Lord Bismarck. You are loved and you are respected. Do not ever let the bad things that others have forced upon you destroy your future. You are better than this. The only sin you committed was not of your own choosing.”
Bismarck’s head popped up from the water. “This feels so good. I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
“You are loved, friend dog. And now it is time for you to forgive yourself. There will come a day when you will understand, and all your pains will drift away … like soft rains.”
“There will come soft rains,” Bismarck whispered.
“You can join me on the shore now, Lord Bismarck.”
The German Shepherd slowly left the wave-splashed sands.
“Are you all right?”
“I think so,” Bismarck said. He then looked at Jackson. “Thank you, my friend.”
“You had the power to forgive yourself all this time,” Jackson barked. “I’m glad someone helped you realize that it’s okay to heal.”
“I still have much healing to achieve,” Bismarck replied. “I must go now. Thank you … once again.”
And with that, the German Shepherd left the Shore of the Cedars, on his way back to the Silver Forest.
Jackson looked toward the horizon. The sun was now touching its own reflection in the water.
Jackson smiled. Today really WAS a good day in Collarworld.
NOTE: The poem “There Will Come Soft Rains” was written in 1920 by Sara Teasdale.