The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:
and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined.
Puppy Hannah joined our household during a time of loss. Our goddaughter Esther Hart had died of colon cancer in early April 2007. She was like both a daughter and a sister to my wife, Joyce. As we mourned Esther’s death, I also continued to grieve the loss of Rosa, our Golden Labrador, more than two years earlier. When I finished drafting Dog-Kissed Tears, a memoir to honor Rosa, in May 2007, my grief felt just as jagged as on the day she died.
Yet it was also a time of healing. In late June, due to unexplained ailments, I began to see a naturopath. At the end of our first consultation she gave me a homeopathic pill—to help release my grief, I later learned. The next week, responding to a pent-up desire to sing, I attended the Beach Summer Voice Program, a four-day vocal workshop held at Bellefair United Church in Toronto’s east end. Although trained as an instrumentalist and experienced as a choral singer, I had never taken individual voice lessons. The workshop would provide these and prepare me to solo in a public recital when the workshop ended.
The workshop also offered training in the Alexander Technique. The technique teaches vocalists how to refocus their movement and posture, letting energy flow freely from the lower spine and up and out. On the second afternoon of the workshop, I learned to walk while maintaining the right posture. I felt as if floating above the floor—quite unlike my hunched-over heaviness that morning, when I had reread and edited my memoir for Rosa.
Right after this airy stroll, I had a voice lesson with Marjorie, the director of the workshop. We began with warm-up exercises. Then she asked which piece I wanted to work on. “I’d love to try the bass aria ‘The People That Walked in Darkness’ from Händel’s Messiah,” I replied. I sang a page or so. Marjorie stopped me to help me breathe properly for the long melismatic phrases. I started again.
“Now try to recapture the feeling you had a few minutes ago when you walked using the Alexander Technique,” she said. “Imagine that you are drawing your breath directly from the ground beneath your feet. Let it flow through your legs to your torso and up and out.”
“I’ll try,” I said.
I paused to collect myself and visualize. I began again. Suddenly my voice opened up, in a releasement I’d never felt before. Then, as I headed through the second phrase and came to “have seen a great light,” a tsunami of sorrow crashed through my body, smashing every carefully constructed constraint. I began to cry, unreservedly, sob after sob rolling out as if they’d never end.
Marjorie was cool. “That’s OK,” she reassured. “Just take your time; this often happens when singers connect with something deep inside.” After regaining my composure, I resumed where I’d left off and sang the solo through to the end, on the verge of melting down several times, but with a rich vocal quality I didn’t know I had. In a wholly unexpected way, I’d been singing, yes, really singing, a song of loss and healing.
When I met with my naturopath the next morning, I told her what had happened. Unsurprised, she affirmed it as a breakthrough. But only several sessions later did she say what she had given me before the workshop and what it was for. Already then she had diagnosed unresolved sorrow as the core of my health problems. And her final remedy, beyond a grief-releasing homeopathic pill, was just as unexpected as the vocal meltdown her tablet helped trigger. During my last July session, she proclaimed: “Lambert, the single most important step you can take along the path of healing is to adopt a puppy—not a dog, but a puppy.”
That was just what I needed to hear. I’d been putting this step off, telling myself how difficult it would be to find a suitable successor to Rosa, hesitating about the effort required to look, and worrying about the time and expenses a new dog would involve. Immediately I went online to locate a suitable breeder. I found one called Cooperslane Kennel. One phone call and an email later I had an appointment to see their dogs the next day.
So on Sunday morning, July 22, 2007, Joyce and I drove out to Cooperslane Kennel, in the countryside northwest of Toronto near the village of Arthur, Ontario, to meet Valerie Cooper and her husband, Brian. They showed us all their adult dogs, both Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, and they let us hold some puppies from a Lab litter. Their Golden Retriever litter was too young to be seen by customers. But we did meet Mary, the lovely first-time mother of twelve Golden puppies born on July 7, the day after I had soloed through my sorrow. Mary’s gentle beauty breathed away my hesitations and worries. We asked Valerie to reserve a female puppy from Mary’s litter.
On my walk that evening, I talked with Rosa, who still accompanied me in spirit. I told her that we planned to adopt a puppy she would like. The puppy would not replace her in our hearts, I said, but would bring us the same joy Rosa offered. I felt happy. And I felt Rosa was happy too: her companion who walked in darkness had seen a great light.
Praise for To Sing Once More
“As a singer, composer, and conductor, I am deeply moved by Lambert’s remembrances of his beloved Hannah, and the ways that music impacted their shared journey. I am inspired and reassured by the similarities I find here to my own life with dogs—from the joys and challenges of puppies, through the cementing of shared loyalties, and the grief of navigating illness and end-of-life care. I’m so grateful for this gracious, loving memoir and the memories it stirs in me.”
—Matthew Culloton, Founding Artistic Director, The Singers – Minnesota Choral Artists, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
“This book, written passionately from the heart, verbalizes in truly beautiful language what so many of us who have shared our lives with dogs would wish to say, but could not find the words.”
—Chris Zink, Sports Medicine Veterinarian and Lifelong Dog Lover
About the Author
Lambert Zuidervaart is emeritus professor of philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies and the University of Toronto and a visiting scholar at Calvin University. He is the author of nine book in philosophy, including Artistic Truth, Social Philosophy after Adorno, and Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation. A resident of West Michigan, he sings in the Chamber Choir of Grand Rapids and two church choirs.