The Dragon with a Tennis Ball in His Mouth

August 23, 2010

My son asked an interesting question on our ride to Belmont University last week.  It was the kind of question you ask on an 850 mile road trip.

If you could be any character in any movie, who would it be?

I didn’t hesitate.  I’ve dreamed of assuming Jake Sully’s role ever since Avatar hit the screens last year.  From behind those goofy 3D glasses I pictured for the first time what heaven might look like.  I wrote about my first experience with Pandora a few months ago – Anticipating My Avatar.

One of my emotional “pings” was watching Jake connect with his dragon (called a Banshee) via a neural bond the Na’vi called Tsahaylu.  Avatar portrayed the bond as far more than a master/pet relationship, it was a mutual understanding between rider and dragon.  Both parties sensed his companion’s emotions and anticipated his actions.  I resonated with that relationship.

We always remember our favorite pet; mine was an amazing Black Labrador Retriever named Dude:

Dude was born with personality and talent.  At the ripe age of five months, and without any training, he plunged into a lake to retrieve an item over 60 yards from his entry point.  Three years later, this time with training, he won a national Field Trial (simulated hunting) event.

I was 8 years old when Mom walked in the kitchen wrestling a black bundle of fur and paws.  I was an early teen when Dude met me at the door everyday after school with a tennis ball in his mouth.  I’d wave him to the far side of our yard and then hurl the yellow ball with everything I had.  Dude had an uncanny canine ability to catch almost any pitch, including those far outside the strike zone. He never lost interest and he always outlasted my arm.

When the topic surfaces in our house about acquiring a new pet, I always respond with the same question, “But can it bring me the morning paper?”  Regardless of rain, sleet or hurricane warning (we lived in Florida) Dude would trot to the curb and sniff the air like he owned the neighborhood.  Then he returned to me with the Tallahassee Democrat between his teeth, sans teeth marks.

Dude was more than a performer.  He was, like all great animal companions, a friend who was alert to his owner’s emotions.  Few teens are fortunate enough to experience a Dude, but I wish they could.  When family conflicts reached their zenith, and waves of hormones fueled my confused adolescent neurons, Dude would put his head on my lap and invite me to scratch behind his ears.  He’d look up at me and I felt the connection.  He knew I needed a distraction from reality with someone who cared.  Those moments, in my opinion, were as close to Tsahaylu as it gets in this lifetime.

I’m surprised at the number of theologians who embrace the possibility of animals in heaven, but I appreciate those who do.  I probably won’t greet all of my former pets in the hereafter, in fact I’d be surprised if a few didn’t find residence in the other eternal alternative.  But I do hope to see Dude.

The Avatar Banshees bond with only one rider in their lifetime.  When I arrive in Paradise, and when I assume my new body I’ll look for the dragon with the tennis ball in his mouth.  He’ll be the one who, once upon a time, shared Tsahaylu with a frazzled Tallahassee teenager.  I’ll grab that ball and hurl it down the canyon.  Then my friend… and then… it will be time to fly.

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