When I was a child my legs grew up before the rest of me did. I was tall and straight with a tangle of mud water hair, dirty fingernails and black high tops that I thought made my brother proud. My family and I lived on a farm with no animals, apart from a collection of stray dogs and some rabbits held in a pin behind the work shed. There wasn't a lock on the chicken wire hut, just a twig shoved through like a crooked finger. The stray dogs would circle the rabbit house til one of them could reach up their muzzle and wiggle out the branch. Next thing you knew there would be nothing left but soft grey fur, catching in the taller grasses like dandelions when the wind blew. I'd cry over those rabbits until my father threatened to shoot the dog that killed them. I loved the mutts more.
We didn't have the money or inclination to get the dogs neutered. They came and went so quickly, with a new one showing up just as soon as another disappeared. On occasion one would end up pregnant with puppies. My father would tell me it was so by nudging the dog on its back, pointing at a long double row of transparent pink glands pressed outward. One particular time, he told me I could come see the mother deliver. I watched that dog fervently, waiting for signs that she was going to have her pups. When it came close, her stomach would sway like a boat, hanging so low I worried she might hurt herself on the wooden steps that led up to the house.
It was mid February and still dark out when my father came into my room, the light from the hall a piece of pie stretching out towards my face. "Wake up Sarah, there's something for you to see."
I followed him down the stairs to our small storage room. The space was dark, apart from the orange glow of a kerosine heater. He pulled at the single bulb string and when light came I saw the dog, laying on its side on a bed of old towels. She was panting and her eyes were nearly closed. I was nervous she was dying, but my father just nodded and whispered "watch." We knelt together and soon after she pushed out the first two of what would be seven puppies. They were wrapped in a slick purple skin that looked as if it had been dunked in oil. I knew from conversations with my father that she was supposed to eat off this casing so that the puppies could breath. Instead she pushed them to the side with her nose. Panicked I grabbed them and tore through the skin. Their wet fur matted around their mole like faces, and they hung limp in my hands, without a breath of life.
Before my father could say as much as a word, I cradled them both against me and ran. Still in my pajamas, feet bare, I did not stop till I had made my way across the lawn towards the garden. There was frost on the mounds of dirt and the strips of cloth that held up the vines of the pole beans were hardened with ice. I stopped somewhere in the center of the rows and crouched, looking down at the dead puppies so small in my hands. I closed my eyes and prayed.
My father was a preacher, and I had read all kinds of books I found in his study. When most kids were telling ghost stories, my brother and I were scaring each other reading books about demons and deliverance. I had read many things, but my favorites were always stories about miracles. Traveling preachers of the past kicking dead babies back to life, or people in faith trying on shoes when they had no feet just to watch them be filled with flesh and bone.
I prayed and I prayed some more. I whispered over their two little bodies. I stroked their backs, drying them with the cuff of my shirt. I prayed with all the faith in the world. I pictured them in my mind, breathing, and would look down, for a moment thinking I might have seen them move. I held them against my face and begged God to bring them back to life. I am not sure how long I was out there, but the sky had turned from black to grey with approaching morning and I never stopped, even as I heard my fathers boots cracking through the thin skin of ice over the dirt.
He said nothing, but reached out his hand, and in the other he held a small shoe box. We walked through the garden together, my numb feet sinking into the cold earth. We passed the work shed and the empty rabbit hut with its wire door hanging limp until we reached the woods. The two puppies were still tucked into the crescent of my arm, and I watched as my father squatted low, brushing aside the deadened leaves. He began digging until he was able to slide the box deep into the earth. He looked up at me, staring into my stubborn eyes, and reached out his two mud streaked hands.
We shaped two little pebble crosses over the wet circle of soil, and we sat together, side by side amongst the trees until the sky lightened to milk between the black branches.
I remember many things about that morning. But nothing over powers sitting with my father in the silence as the sky turned. I have wondered since what would have happened had the miracle occurred? I'm sure the story would have been told many more times, and yet I see another miracle, an act of love that might be even greater. My father coming out to help me put away what death had taken. Perhaps in faith the greatest leap of all is to simply trust your Father.To let Him lead you out into the woods to bury what is gone, and to sit with Him, head against His chest until the light comes.
He knelt in the cold of winter and dug with His bare hands a hole and covered it over again. His gentleness moved me to bend and place what had passed into the box. He knew it was time to bury that we might go and see what is living. Then He led me into the house and we sat, letting the heat thaw our bodies and witnessed the new life before us.