My wife and I learned something strange recently about our already strange dog, Mack, the mid-size black and white mutt we’ve had for almost a decade. With his barrel chest and stubby legs, his hunter’s nose and soulful eyes, he looks like a black lab crammed into the body of a beagle. He was on doggy death row when we got him from a shelter in Alabama, and he was so odd and nervous that you could never tell what was going to turn his terrors on. More than once we returned home to find him paralyzed (for how long?) on a small rug or even a piece of newspaper as if he were stranded on an island amid dangers we couldn’t see. Mack has been having some troubling health issues lately, and in the course of the vet’s investigations there was an incidental finding: Mack has a bullet in him.
I can’t overstate how disturbing this news was to my wife and me. It’s not just the obvious disgust: to think of some miserable man—because of course it had to be a man—taking aim at this utterly docile and probably mentally impaired dog and blasting away. And then to think of Mack crawling off to die somewhere and then, somehow, not dying—for Mack is not only docile but, as our vet has told us, preternaturally tough. Dogs hide pain, they do not want you to be aware of it, but Mack will try to hide even his reaction to extreme procedures at the vet’s office, as if he’d learned that it does not pay, no matter what, to let a human being know what you feel.
But it wasn’t just the act itself that so disturbed us. No, what was really gut wrenching, what left us both stunned and tearful in our kitchen the day we talked with the vet on the phone, was thinking about Mack carrying around this memento of that violent moment for all these years. All the life that we had lived with Mack: the births of our daughters, my dire illnesses and miraculous recoveries, new cities and new careers. And to think of that sweet odd dog all the while dragging around that unspeakable—in both senses of the word—pain.
The Sunday after learning about Mack’s bullet, I heard a sermon focused on the woman in Luke who suffers from an “issue of blood.” The text says that she has suffered for twelve years and has spent all her money on doctors. Just imagine the contempt she would have endured at the hands of those men—and again, they would have been men—her whole life defined by this one pain, which would have entailed shame and loneliness as well as physical suffering, since menstruating women were considered “unclean” and thus untouchable. So when she hears that there’s this man, this Jesus, going around healing people, she thinks to herself, why not. Or no, that actually doesn’t match the urgency in the passage at all. She doesn’t think to herself “why not” but instead feels a compulsion in her heart that she does not understand, but she understands that it requires an action. The scripture tells us that Jesus feels “virtue” or “power” go out of him, and maybe what this unnamed woman first felt when she heard the name of Jesus was pain going out of her—and she went to find the man who had the name that could make this miracle come to pass.