The miniature poodle who once belonged to my late mother-in-law is approaching the age of 20, and is fading quickly now.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. I went out to the living room to sit cross-legged, and do some breathing exercises.
The poodle was shuffling about and whimpering. I gathered up his fragile body, placed him on my lap, and continued my breathing exercises while he licked my arm.
I reflected on the poodle’s imminent death—and by extension, the approaching end of my own life.
The Hebrew word ‘Shema’ came into my mind.
‘Shema’ means ‘Listen!’ and is the first word of a Jewish prayer—called The Shema.
Religious Jews believe that your final act on earth should be to recite the Shema. The prayer itself says, “you shall repeat these words at your going out, and your coming in.”
It was the word ‘Shema’ that caught my attention though.
I felt as though I was being instructed to watch carefully for opportunities to perform acts of kindness because the opportunities are rare, and often well-hidden.
They’re also seldom the kind of acts that glorify the person performing them.
At that moment my opportunity was no more glorious than comforting a small dying dog.
I recited the Shema for him.
By the time I’d finished he was asleep and breathing peacefully.
I placed him in his bed, went back to my own, and back to my own sleep.
This morning the poodle staggered over to his food bowl and enjoyed a hearty breakfast.