“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
– James Herriot, All Creatures
Great and Small
Knowing my daddy as I do, if the heavenly hosts are not inclusive of “all creatures great and small,” he might ask for a ticket to the other place.
I hope this past Monday dispelled any doubts he had. Mine certainly were as my family met me at the entrance of the Georgia War Veteran’s Home so “Doc,” as Daddy has been known in his hometown of Swainsboro, Ga., might enter a new phase of his life journey.
It was no small “God thing” that as the caring nursing staff were helping Daddy out of his vehicle, a happy parade of dogs of every sort heralded his arrival. The word of this new resident’s 50-plus years of attending “creatures great and small” obviously had gotten around.
As my mother, brother and I wheeled Daddy through the portals, I watched his hands reach out to stroke the coat of yet one more canine. You see, as the Creator would have it, Doc’s arrival coincided with the very day that pet therapy was scheduled.
Watching Daddy reach out to stroke a newfound friend on Monday is not the first time I’ve seen his hands graciously at work. His 58-year-old, truth-seeking son has held a holy curiosity all of his life – and sometimes, I might add, to his detriment.
On a family vacation to St. Augustine, Fla., when I was 10, I had narrated our journey by reading aloud every billboard advertising a roadside zoo up ahead. As soon as the station wagon pulled into the zoo’s parking lot, my car door opened wide and I dashed toward the elephant’s cage that beckoned beside the entrance.
The elephant’s trunk was eagerly extended to me and, supposing he was extending an invitation for me to take it in hand, I did as he did me in a like manner, but without the intention of letting me go.
I can still see Daddy’s hands coaxing the elephant to let go of his little boy: unwrapping with dexterity yet strength and tenderness the elephant’s long snout from around my lanky arm. The hands of the country vet were put to good use that unforgettable day.
Through the years, when my life has been held in the grip of what seemed insurmountable, I haven’t forgotten how I was set free.
And on a more difficult day, as we waited for all the paperwork to be filled out and the meeting with the team of nurses and doctors to take place, we had our own doubts and fears calmed as we witnessed the mystical communion taking place between the residents and the dogs nestled in their laps and eagerly standing guard by their wheelchairs. We’d seen this before, but yet somehow never in this way.
On this day, my daddy was joining the ranks of this remnant of the Greatest Generation, who guarded our freedoms and preserved our liberties and were now making this place home.
And I realized that day that while Doc’s hands might not be used in the practice of veterinary medicine, their strength and loving kindness would be no less.
Even now it’s proved to me as he reaches over to pat me on the leg to make sure I am all right. I’m that lanky little boy with the holy curiosity all over again and it couldn’t be more obvious that Doc’s hands haven’t lost their touch.
In honor of my father, Dr. Raymond H. Mason.
THE REV. BERNARD MASON IS A RETIRED SUPPLY PASTOR SERVING AT MANN MEMORIAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH.