When It’s Time

I Dare You...

I Dare You…

This isn’t the topic I expected to post this weekend. Not because of the passing of Nelson Mandela, but for an even more personal passing that raises almost identical emotions.


I demonstrated to push my college to rid itself of all investments that supported the South African government during apartheid. I’m proud to say Swarthmore College was one of the early institutions to manifest its (Quaker) values by participating in the economic boycott which the pundits are crediting with bringing an end to the apartheid system.

I rejoiced when it became clear that Nelson Mandela’s emphasis on equality and democracy, and commitment to reconciliation as the path forward, would be carried out with a simultaneous delight in the small pleasures of life. I’ve followed Mandela as I have the Dalai Lama, listening (by reading) to their speeches and appreciating how well they each translate values into action in ways I try to embody in my own life. My venue, as my status, is so much less than that of these two men I admire. Only others can assess to what extent I manifest any similar virtues.

I do attest that my Shih Tzu, named Shian Shung in respect of his status as a Master and Teacher, has shown the Mandela and Dalai Lama traits of persistence, consistency, dedication, joy in living, playfulness, affection, tolerance and respect for the equality of all. I could not know, when I cuddled him for a bit of extra “affection time” this past Monday, that I would never again do so. I cleaned and treated his eye, hugged him, received several doggy kisses in return, and watched him run out to catch up with his mates, chasing a rabbit into the pasture.

Blowing Kisses

Blowing Kisses

I loaded the car for my week of job training away from home and, as I headed down the drive, looked back to see my four dogs sitting on the deck, watching me go. That is my final image of Shian Shung – a furry white bundle of loving energy standing out against the blackness of the other dogs.


Today everything outside the windows is white. It snowed while I was away, and is snowing again now. Somewhere hidden within the cold wet white, is the body of what was a vibrant, lively personality cloaked in the white fur of a Shih Tzu. Apparently he was hit by a car mid-week. A visitor reports noticing a white dog lying beside the road Wednesday night. Shian Shung has not been seen since Wednesday morning; no body was found near the highway on Thursday. Most likely it was moved, or covered over, by snow plows clearing the road from the storm that day.

In his three short years, Shian Shung endured two traumatic health challenges and lived with a persistent eye irritation that required daily treatment. He was little more than a year old when he ingested meat some neighbor had set out, filled with rat poison. His gums were almost colorless when I got him to the vet. Daily injections with Vitamin K saved his life. He bounced back. He had one surgery to his right eyelid, intended to eliminate irritation to the cornea. It was only partially successful – I still had to clean and treat the eye daily. A follow-up surgery ended abruptly when Shian Shung flat-lined on the operating table. The vet and his assistant performed CPR, intubated him, worked on him for more than half an hour. He survived – again.

Within a week he was running and playing and teasing his pals, warning me of intruders with his assertive bark, tolerating steroid shots to reduce the inflammation to his eye, and lavishing me with his affection and abundant joie de vivre.

Over the 40 years I’ve lived in rural New Mexico, I’ve shared my home with a very large number of dogs and cats. Inevitably, a few stand out… Natasha, Driftwood, Daisy, Haiku, Rowena, Mei Ling and now Shian Shung. Daisy (a beagle/basset cross) extended her life after a serious illness, for just long enough to see me through the loss of my father, before she moved on to join him.

Handsome Haiku

Handsome Haiku

Haiku and Natasha (tiger-striped cats, one ginger the other grey) each taught me how to recognize the difference between choosing to live with sickness and being ready to depart. Rowena (a Scottie) and Mei Ling (another Shih Tzu) offered generous  love while also requiring respect for their independence. Each chose her moment of passing, in ways I could not avoid recognizing and respecting.

Miss Independence x 2

Miss Independence x 2

Various cultures articulate a tradition of animal guides and companions for the spirit world; I’m certain they “have it right”. A cat (my totem) will undoubtedly inform me, and accompany me, when it is my time. For now, I accustom myself to life here without the active presence of Shian Shung, as I adjust to a world now lacking the physical presence of Nelson Mandela.


We are most fortunate when we find good role models or wise teachers, to help us on our paths through life. I’m blessed to have my spiritual teacher, on MasterPath, still present in the physical, as is the Dalai Lama. Two other role models, one proximate (Shian Shung) and one more distant (Mandela), have shown me how to live fully and well despite imprisonment and life threatening trauma. Both will continue to function as guides, now in my memory.

I wonder – is Shian Shung frolicking at Mandela’s feet as they move to their next stage of being?

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6 Responses to “When It’s Time”

  1. Jane Foraker-Thompson Says:

    Niki, so sorry you lost your cute, loving, bouncy little furry friend so out of time. You invested so much time and love with her/him. Your connecting Shian Shung with Nelson Mandela was interesting.

    I was in Cape Town, at the Grand Parade, the day that Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years of prison on Feb. 11, 1990. I was there doing sabbatical research. The following months in South Africa were euphoric for all who were Liberation oriented, black, “coloured,” and white alike. I was privileged to experience many unique and challenging events with Liberation folk during that time. I’ve been a fan of Mandela for many years. I don’t have many icons that I look up to: Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela are it for me. Maybe the Dahlai Lama as well.

    Twice I went back to South Africa after Mandela’s release. First in Dec. 1993 to do some training for people chosen to be peacekeepers at the first ever multi-racial democratic elections held in April of 1994. The second (third) time was in 1998 when I was asked to come teach at the Anglican seminary in Grahamstown while one of their staff went on sabbatical leave. I had just graduated from an Episcopal seminary in June 1997, and was asked to come teach there starting in Jan. 1998. This time Ed went with me and I taught there for two quarters, while the Truth & Reconciliation hearings were going on. The changes in the country and countryside since 1990 were dramatic, though they still have a long way to go to take care of the poor blacks as far as education, housing, and opportunity. During apartheid there had been three Anglican seminaries: one each for black, coloured/Asian, and white students. The white one was called St. Paul’s College in 1990 when I was first there, although the student body was already about 75% black, 15% coloured, and just 10%. After apartheid fell, the three seminaries were combined to the one in Grahamstown, and Arch-Bishop Tutu had renamed it the College of the Transfiguration. 🙂 So Tutu.

    After teaching for two quarters, Ed and I toured South Africa for a month, and then spent two months in Lesotho, doing volunteer work with the Anglican church there. Next we got caught up in a little civil war in Lesotho. We woke up one morning to bazooka’s and shots being fired, and the buildings around us on three sides burning. We finally got evacuated out by some South African tanks to Lady Brand, South Africa. After that, we returned to the States, as Ed was very ill. I had just been offered a job by a bishop to combine a white and a black church. I would have loved to have taken on that challenge, but had to get Ed home for medical care.

    Anyway, Mandela’s death has affected me too. We knew it was coming, and necessary, but am sad that his presence has left us. His spirit will live on forever with all who care. What a great example he was of forgiveness as well as political savvy.

    Jane F-T

    • chelawriter Says:

      I’m glad I’m not alone in appreciating the perfect homage to Mandela manifested in action (as opposed to words) when President Obama shook hands with President Castro. Would that the so-called Christian politicians could grasp the simple truth of the moment.

  2. painttheworldwithwords Says:

    Congratulations! I have nominated you for the Sisterhood Award! Follow this link: http://painttheworldwithwords.wordpress.com/?p=892

    • chelawriter Says:

      As noted in a direct reply, I am grateful for the nomination but cannot accept, as I do not have the skills, nor the time now to develop them, in order to respond as required.

  3. Cheryl @ Artzzle Says:

    As an equally fanatic animal lover, I can share your sorrow and appreciate your love for Shian Shung. We presently have two pooches; one, a litter mate to our Freddy, whom we lost in July. So brother Fozzy’s remaining time with us is limited. He’s a big guy and nearly twelve years old. I would feel honored if you read about Fred at this link http://artzzle.com/2013/07/15/my-favorite-freddy/

    • chelawriter Says:

      I see now how much Fred looks like my Blackjack – almost more of a brother in appearance than Fozzy. As to reading your memorial post, it is I who am honored. Since I’ve always lived in a very small household – largest size being two people – most of the dogs who have opted for a special person have been ‘mine’… There have been a surprising number that didn’t become people dogs at all, identifying with the pack but only its canine members. And then there was the dog who chose my cat of the moment to be ‘hers’!
      I realized at some point today that, even though my totem is a cat, I write rather more and more often about the dogs in my life. Need to give that observation some thought.

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