The Knowing

Silas House - Berea, Kentucky
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, December 6, 2013
Silas House
Photo by Cyndi Williams

As a writer, Silas House doesn't like to use the word "love" too much. But, when it comes to his dogs, House knows that they embody love in every sense of the word—the giving and receiving of affection, practicing kindness and patience, and enjoying every single moment.

I believe that if more people were like dogs, we’d all be a whole lot happier.

My dogs make me a better person just by being themselves. They don’t care about what color I am, or whom I love, or my religion, or any of the other ridiculous things that separate us as people. They only care that I am kind to them and others. That’s what should matter.

My dogs also know that giving and receiving affection are the most important things in life. Yes, eating is right up there, too. But I believe that if my dogs had to choose between lying still in a patch of sunshine while I sat beside them on the grass giving their bellies a good rub or devouring a meal of the same dog food they get every single day of their lives . . . well, I truly believe they’d choose the loving, despite their genuine devotion to gobbling down their kibble as if they might never have another morsel of food offered to them in their whole lives.

When they offer themselves up to receive adulation, they cause me to become still, to remember that most things actually can wait a few more minutes to get done because this moment right here, this moment of sitting beneath the trees with their swaying limbs, the sun warm on my face, the scent of the creek down in the woods, the birdcall in the deepest parts of those woods, and the holy world (all of it holy, every single bit of it) shimmering all about me, this moment is what life is about.

Having a dog—or any pet—makes us better people. They force us to slow down (each time I return home I have to spend a few minutes patting the belly of our outside dog, Rufus, because he’ll lie down on the driveway on his back, right in my way as I’m rushing to the door; I can’t refuse that and I often fold myself down onto the ground with grocery bags standing all around us to give him some loving), to pay more attention, to be kinder (especially to Pepper, who came from an abusive household before ours, and carries all of that grief in his eyes, in his damaged back, in his wariness), to give and receive affection, to be patient (especially on days when Holly Marie just doesn’t really feel like going to the bathroom anytime quick), to love and love and love.

Writers aren’t supposed to throw that word around much. We’re supposed to be stingy with putting that on the page. But it is necessary when talking about dogs because that’s what they embody. They remind us, time and time again, of the most important thing. Such a shame that we actually forget that. But we do.

I know that some people think it’s a sin to think an animal has a soul, but I do. I don’t care what anyone says or thinks. Because if anything in this world is close to God, it’s a dog. I believe a great amount of being in touch with God is required to hear the thunder from way off, or to feel the trembling of a train miles away, or to know when someone they care about needs them, and offer comfort no matter what, and not have one tiny bit of judgment in their whole beings. I believe a sort of holiness is required to remind us that everything in this world deserves affection. Dogs know these things. They know and know and know.

Dogs make us better people. That’s what I believe.

Silas House is the nationally bestselling author of five novels, three plays, and one work of creative nonfiction. He has been published in the New York Times, Narrative, Newsday, Oxford American, and many other publications. The NEH Chair of Appalachian Studies at Berea College, he also serves on the fiction faculty of the MFA in creative writing at Spalding University.

Recorded live at Spalding University by Geoffrey Reddick and independently produced for This I Believe by Dan Gediman