The hawk, the squirrel, Mr. Jefferson, Shayna and me

March 8, 2014 | By | Add a Comment

Previously: Sixteen-months-less-one day; prayer request

My posts here on Shayna’s site are normally dedicated to presenting pictures or videos of Shayna, or both.

Not this one.

JS Shayna at UVA

With Shayna at UVa, shortly after adopting her in April 2002, in front of the statue of Mr. Jefferson, with whom I’d “communed” for months.

On the morning of Thursday, March 6, 2014, after many days of displaying her usual high energy, high spirits and high activity, Shayna seemed quite down.  I don’t know if it was just a bad day – or the prelude to the end, as described in the above post.  I went to the cafe (Panera) to have coffee and do my work, but afterwards, I didn’t feel like going home quite yet.  So I went back to where my entire journey in Charlottesville started, and where I was often, at this time twelve years ago, just before Shayna arrived in my life as a 10-week-old: at the University of Virginia.

There was only one parking space near my destination, the Rotunda, and I grabbed it.  After parking, I walked slowly, as if through molasses, contemplating my pain, and all the reasons I had to be so grateful (discussed on Shayna’s Facebook page, a few days ago), but basically feeling semi-paralyzed.  I saw the faces of all the young people and professors, and the odd characters that seem to be on the periphery of college towns.  I just walked, with my head kind of down, very slowly, gripped in thought, memory, wonder, pondering.

After visiting the statue of Mr. Jefferson in front of the Rotunda that he designed (which I visited dozens of times in the months prior to Shayna’s arrival, asking for and receiving strength, patience and inspiration), I began to walk the “Lawn” area, behind the Rotunda.  And although I’d walked there hundreds of times, with and without Shayna, on this morning I came across something I’d never seen, and never could have anticipated seeing there.

The UVa “Lawn”; the student and professor living pavilions are on each side. Shayna and I have visited here dozens of times over the years. Today I visited alone.

The hawk – and the squirrel

I saw a few students observing something at the edge of the lawn, just in front of the pavilions: a hawk, devouring a squirrel.

Normally, I would walk on past without looking, because that kind of stuff makes me queasy.  Show me a National Geographic documentary about the lion catching the gazelle, and I am out the door.  Just cannot watch it.  Yes, it’s nature and all that, but I don’t have to sit there and watch it.  It’s not that I get angry at the lion, or sympathize with the gazelle, I just can’t see it.

This morning, while I didn’t completely look, I also didn’t completely avoid it.  In fact, as I walked by, I observed the hawk picking what it had clutched between its feet, and consuming bits of flesh.

And this time, I didn’t really flinch back.

A scene similar to that which I witnessed. Should one feel sorry for the hawk’s prey, clutched in its talons – or glad for the hawk?

As I describe in my book, several years ago, when contemplating how to frame the very difficult introduction – about how 9/11 ripped off the scabs off some more-complete memories about what really happened to me as a little kid – when I happened across a video feed of a family of eagles, in a nest high atop a tree in Iowa.  Something told me to watch very closely, because there was much more than meets the eye.  Turns out, as I describe in the book, it was the mirror-opposite of the environment in which I grew up: I observed two committed “parents,” teaching, looking out for their children, and preparing them with the knowledge necessary to learn how to survive and provide for themselves, once they become adults.

In this case, I realized that what I was watching was the cycle, the circle of life.  Should I be horrified by the hawk?  No.  It is doing what nature commands it, to survive.  Should I feel sorry for the squirrel?  No.  It is the hawk’s prey.  To my amazement, I was able to observe this scene in a very neutral, dispassionate perspective.


As I walked, it occurred to me that there is much to learn from what I’d observed, that could be applied to my situation with Shayna.  I’ve accepted that my tears are not for her, but for me; that it is my heart that will suffer such a loss, such a separation, of the physical presence of the most wonderful, most complete love I’ve ever known.

And yet, as I also describe in my book, through a magical set of circumstances, about a year ago, Shayna “wrote” me a letter.  The excerpt that I thought of, as I walked:

I know you wouldn’t want me to spend too much time, let alone the the prospect of eternity, grieving my loss of you (temporarily). Because I will know that anytime I am missing you, or wanting to reach out to you, that I’ll be able to close my eyes and focus my thoughts (as you know I am really good at doing!), and I will be able to see your smiling eyes staring at me; I will hear your voice 17Nov12 UVa glowing Shayna 2btelling me countless times a day how much you love me, and how proud you are of me; I will feel your hugs and kisses; and I will sense your spirit with me, just as I can when I hear the door of your truck slam shut, telling me that you’ve returned home, and in just a moment, you’ll be walking through the door, with your enthusiastic, loving greeting, just for me.

I will let go of our Earthly life together, knowing that you will be with me, always, in my heart, where it really matters.

What you need to know, what you must know, is that anytime you need me, all you have to do is close your eyes, and reach out to me with your spirit, and I promise that if I can, I will be there: you will feel me giving you the face-full of kisses that you so enjoy at the end of the day; you will see me staring back at you with my happy eyes, filled with love for you; and you will feel me breathing softly as we could feel each other’s heartbeat, when we slept beside each other, during inside and outside camping trips. And if you need extra sensory joy, you can always visit the amazing website you created for me, that has videos from the first day you brought me home, to comfort you. You will be able to close your eyes and visit with me, to transport yourself back in time, when my life was new – and your healing, through me, began.

As I kept walking, I came across the other amazing statue of Mr. Jefferson, at the south end of the Lawn, with its inscription that inspired me so many times before – but now, took me to a very different place:

“I am closing the last scene of my life by fashioning and fostering an establishment for the instruction of those who come after us. I hope that its influence on their virtue, freedom, fame and happiness will be salutary and permanent.”
— Thomas Jefferson

This has special significance in my mind, not only for how much of a brighter world it is with Shayna in it, but for the fact that I recently created a website that will be dedicated to doing good things for dogs and their parents in the future, in Shayna’s name: Shayna’s List.

Yes, I feel slightly creepy starting this while she is still here, still enjoying life so much.

But as I describe in my book, as one who avoided all talk of illness and death, especially when it pertains to dogs, I feel as if I have finally gotten my head around what so many other obsessed dog parents have to accept, when their best friends, with whom they are completely, head-over-heels in love with, for whom they would do pretty much anything, must go away.


When I moved to Charlottesville from far away after 9/11, it was to heal, grow, and see about getting my first dog.

I think through what I experienced today, I took another big step on this journey.

To whatever force may have helped expose me to these things, at this particular moment… thank you.






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