Faith for the Non-beliver
I believe in the hope faith provides.
I admitted atheism to myself in my early twenties, a surprisingly satisfactory declaration. Although embracing atheism ended a valued relationship with a church, I could no longer live a life I knew was lie to make other people happy. And I haven’t looked for God since. What a surprise that my dog would teach me the value of faith.
My wife and I brought Stanley home after being married less than two months. He weighed five pounds. Not knowing any better, my wife Layla and I let him sleep in the bed. To my wife’s joy, the little puppy slept on her pillow the first night. Eighty pounds later, Layla spent most nights trying to banish Stanley from the bed, but no matter how many times he was kicked out, the dog managed to find his way back at her head.
Layla and I never had the chance to imagine our lives without Stanley. At only eight years old he was diagnosed with polymyositis, an inflammatory muscle disorder for which there is no cure. However, with proper treatment, dogs can live several years with this condition. Stanley lasted four months.
In that time, I shuttled Stanley back and forth to his veterinarian, who attempted various methods to treat the condition. For every step forward Stanley took several back. Layla soon had a forty pound dog sleeping at her head. Yet in that time, I found faith, because I never doubted for a second the doctor would find a solution. I also realized that I have always irrationally placed blind faith in doctors of any kind, never fearing or despairing whatever medical condition I or others close to me have had to deal with. I am the strong one when medical issues dominant life.
The doctor’s final solution for Stanley’s condition was steroids, which would rebuild the dog’s muscle mass. This worked. Stanley rebounded well enough so that we could go on vacation the summer he was diagnosed and leave him boarded. On the fourth day of the vacation we got the call: kidney failure. Ironically, the very medicine that treated the polymyositis attacked his urinary system. I flew home so Stanley would not have to spend his final night in a cage; I slept at his head.
Holding something you love while it dies defies description. As the doctor injected the barbiturate, he told me that he believed animals go to heaven. Even in my heart, I didn’t defy the statement. When a children’s book from the vet’s office arrived in the mail a week after Stanley’s death explaining how dog’s wait for their owners in heaven, I read it to my son Miles without protest, even in my heart, although I still don’t believe such a place exists. Because now I understand the necessity of faith, be it in a deity or a doctor, for it provides hope where despair would reign and leaves you capable of functioning during life’s dark times.