Helen Weaver may have seen an old issue of the Journal for Living (formerly the Journal of Family Life) in which I'm listed as an editor, because I got an e-mail from her describing her book The Daisy Sutra and asking if I would like to review it. Fascinated, I wrote back saying I would, and in due course her book arrived. I read it in two sittings, and the more I read, the more respect and affection I felt for both the author and her dog! Of course, the cover of Helen's book offers a potential reader a most appealing, front-view image of Daisy, in which she gazes searchingly, a bit anxiously, at the camera lens - and hence at the person holding the camera. After that initial contact - along with the title itself - the rest of the "story" just falls easily into place. Think for a moment of linking the dog's name with one of the Buddha's teachings - and you have to admit, this is something unusual.
Well, the story itself fully lives up to this preliminary mindset. The simple narrative tone of Helen Weaver's writing is totally disarming. She is clearly telling the truth as well as she can, not claiming any special status of inside info or knowledge, just telling you what happened to her, and to her dog Daisy. And the story is both touching and plausible. Helen holds nothing back about her life, to the extent to which it fulfills the purpose of supporting the main body of the narrative, which is about Daisy and about her relationship with Daisy.
What Helen describes is a difficult time in her life. For a good many years she had been living in Woodstock, New York, where she had been enjoying a pretty free-and-easy lifestyle among the New Age people who had flocked there during the last decades of the century and stayed on to make their living among compatible souls. Many of them, including Helen, had adopted Buddhism along the way, there being an impressive Zen Buddhist monastery nearby which was amenable to a wide spectrum of people. But now her father, an eminent scientist, had died, and her mother, age 87, was not at all well. Helen herself was now fifty years of age, and clearly, at a kind of crossroads in her life. It was clear to her that she was being called to go back: .back to her parents' conservative house in the conservative community of New Milford, Connecticut, whose green featured "a World War II tank and a gazebo" which "once appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post" - and to give up her "hippy" lifestyle in Woodstock with its "postage-stamp-size green" featuring "a bearded tarot reader wearing rainbow-hued patches, street people and flowers." This she was clearly reluctant to do!
Helen admits in the book that she had never really gotten along with her parents - especially her mother - neither of them really able to understand the other as adults in any degree of depth. So this move, although fully accepted, was deeply disturbing to the entire course of Helen's life. She was able to mitigate the culture shock to some degree by building herself a cabin in the woods on her parents' property and outfitting it with the barest essentials for simple living - but the move still created profound disturbance in her being, which she expressed repeatedly inside herself as a kind of mantra: "Oh, my God, what have I done?" and "I'll try it for three years."
This, then, is the setting of the drama into which this little black-and-white mongrel dog with the "beautiful, expressive brown eyes," eager body and blithe spirit now wiggles her way! She and Helen met at a local animal hospital, where Helen had come, following the suggestion of a home aide, a Japanese-Korean caregiver named Dolly whom Helen describes as a "tough cookie," and whom she had been forced to hire for assistance with her mother's care when she became very ill with the flu. It only took one look - on both sides! Dolly's comments were, "So beautiful face," and, "She good dog."
So begins the saga. The telling takes up quite a bit of the book, and it is not memorable in any special way, but Helen's loving, detailed telling of the story speaks volumes about the depth of her dependence on Daisy's presence, gratitude and love for the even tenor of her life, and about the genuine mutuality of their connection. I am not implying that that narrative is told in a routine or trivial manner. No, it is eminently readable in its own right, and carries the reader along until the point at which things began to change.
At the age of ninety-seven, Helen's mother finally died. The way of her going was gradual, and included what Helen calls an "epiphany" in which she and her mother finally were able to begin to see each other as they were to themselves - and consequently, to become friends. Her going was peaceful and relatively non-traumatic - for them both! But her death signaled big changes in both Helen's and Daisy's lives. After the funeral came the sale of the house, disposal of her parents' goods and the purchase of a house in Woodstock once more. Daisy had had a long-time problem with arthritis of the spine, and it now began to worsen - to the point where finally she could no longer drag her stiff, ailing body up the stairs in the new house at night when it came time to sleep in Helen's room. Helen now felt she was forced to keep her in the basement of the house, even though she knew Daisy felt discounted, and Helen herself felt guilty. She describes the scene:
And now we come to the point in the story where it becomes something more than a fond memoir about a canine pet and his owner. Daisy's problems became worse and worse. She would sometimes howl, left alone in the basement - and she developed colitis, and lost much of her appetite. Helen began asking herself if it was time for her to be "put down," to use the habitual expression. She mused, worriedly, that Daisy "wasn't the dog she used to be; but was she really ready to die?"
A friend who had a dog with a problem that didn't get any better over time told her that she had contacted an "animal communicator" in New York, who had asked the dog what the problem was, and had received an answer that his ear itched. Investigating, the owner had found a serious fungal infection in the ear. This communicator, Gail De Sciose, evidently had the ability to reach an animal (telepathically) over the telephone. Helen decided to see if Gail could help her by asking Daisy what she wanted - to ask her if her life was uncomfortable enough for her to want to leave it. Gail made the contact, and reported back that she did not. Gail asked Daisy to tell Helen what things she did want and how she felt about her life. Gail reported that Daisy felt grateful to Helen, that she loved her a lot, that she wanted more chicken and rice in her diet, and that she saw her life as being very slow but not unsupportable.
Helen found this information very heartening and an eye-opener as well, focusing her awareness on the fact that Daisy was a thinking, feeling being not that different from herself - and that they could live out the rest of their association more as loving peers than as dog and owner.
The last phase of the story is a touching description of Daisy's last days and how Helen's communication with her inner spirit through three different communicators was able to ease the passage into the quiet, peaceful death by injection that Helen had been afraid of, not knowing what Daisy herself would feel about it. W hen it was over, Helen was able to say goodbye to her and let her go, but afterwards, she realized how much was still left unfinished about their connection. She writes:
Having found so much relief from worry and pain through communicating with Daisy, Helen ultimately turned once again to the issue of communicating with her spirit. Her friend Karen Beth, who had been one of the communicators that had helped her during Daisy's last days, told her that she had been communicating with her cat, who had died, and learned that the cat was planning to reincarnate as a new pet - and gave her signs by which she would be able to recognize her old pet! Well, Helen thinks, doesn't everything have a Buddha nature? If the Dalai Lama can do this, why not a cat or a dog? So she asked Karen Beth to help her "speak" with Daisy - and what she learned made so much sense to her and gave her so much comfort that she was able to repeat the experience several times, with different communicators, and felt that she had learned something profound from Daisy concerning the true nature of life.
The last three chapters of the book are a very interesting interview with Gail De Sciose about her work in which she mentions a number of things she was told by animals which she could not have found out herself - an epilogue, and "A Word to the Skeptical Reader." In the epilogue, Daisy herself has a message to readers of the book that I believe is worth repeating. One part of it is about the picture on the cover - which is quite remarkably expressive, as I mentioned. Helen asks Gail to ask Daisy if that picture was something special for her. Gail quotes Daisy as saying about it:
The other question Helen asked was, "Does she have a last message for our readers?" The answer was:
Helen ends the book with a long list of resources on the subject of animal communication, both written and in terms of direct contact. She herself is available for contact at www.daisysutra.com., and she lists a number of e-mail addresses for some of the communicators she lists.
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