In Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant, there are biscuits shaped like ice cream cones, and fluffy cloud beds and children – sledding, and throwing balls – but there is also a whiskery old man, hiding behind trees and perching on clouds and handing out the biscuits. Ladies and gentlemen, God. Please, for the sake of the children, attempt to contain your misgivings.
Is it the facial hair? The old-man-ness? It’s fair to be troubled by all of the ways God can get shoehorned into your (and your children’s) lives, still ask yourself: would it be any less threatening if God were distilled to a booming, celestial voice as he is in Mordecai Gerstein’s quasi-Buddhist Mountains of Tibet, or a black woman like the winged benefactor in Eileen Spinelli’s City Angel, or if God was in fact a slobbering St. Bernard, or (as my older son used to imagine him) a baby who climbed a rainbow into heaven?
People, we are talking about canine paradise here, so I wonder whose sensitivities we are worried about offending. Dogs don’t get to invent an afterlife, after all, in fact last I looked they are generally omitted from most of the guest lists, whether it is Zeus or Moses or Muhammad writing the invitations.
Everyone’s gods are going to look a little bit different, still that doesn’t mean we should give up trying to talk about them, to ourselves or to our children. So forgive the dude with the moustache, okay? Or call him Bert if you must, and consider the geese in dog heaven who honk and flap and tease and make the dogs crazy – or is it happy? Consider there is more than enough imagination in these pages to help us wonder if some of our daily assumptions aren’t the product of a limited – and limiting – point of view.