The Consciousness Question

Nature, nurture, and the hundred billion neurons in between

My Dog: Death and a Dream

Una crossed the country on the back seat of the car 15 times.

She was called Una. A ‘rescue’ dog: about 70 pounds: a mix of German shepherd, Collie, and Golden Retriever. A most regal and beautiful creature – independently-minded to a degree, yet never to the extent of imposing too great a strain on the love that bound us together. When I was travelling I never put her into a kennel, but always employed a very competent older lady to come and live in the house and look after her. Una crossed the country on the back seat of the car 14 times East to West and 15 times West to East; became a connoisseur of Rest Areas, displaying a restless anticipation when we were a mile or so away from one where we had stopped a year earlier.

She died two years ago: neurological issues diminished her ability to walk and rendered her incontinent. The night before she died I said ‘goodnight’ to her as she lay on the drop cloth in the sitting room – and for the first time ever I saw her eyes were filled with fear, the likes of which I had never seen before in any living creature. It was six o’clock the next morning when I awoke from a dream… every detail of which I can recall to this day.

I dreamt I was a small boy again – still in short trouser – standing at the door of a typically dark and low beamed Norman church (built by William the Conqueror in about 1075 A.D.) in North Yorkshire: the Parish Church where, as a lad, I pumped the bellows for the church organ which, at that time, had not been electrified – and where my best friend, Warwick Broadhead (who had just turned 13) was the church organist. I tried several times to open the door, but it was obviously locked. As I turned away a very small nun – well under five feet – came walking up the path. A long train from her wimple brushed the gravel behind her.

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“Can I go into the church?” I asked her.

“No: you cannot,” she replied.

At this moment I realized that I was carrying a small football-like bundle of fur pressed to my side. Automatically I placed it on the ground where it ran on tiny legs to sit in a patch of high grass at the end of the church nave – from where a tiny face and two pinpoint eyes stared back at me. I walked back and picked up the small and warm furry bundle. Absolutely unresisting it lay against my chest.

“Give it to me,” said the nun.

Gently, she cradled it in both hands. “Now you can go in” she said, and walked off down the path, train now airborne behind her. I sidled back to the church; the door opened at a touch… but not to disclose the familiar, low-roofed and dark Norman interior. Instead I entered a high, vertical-columned, Gothic-like space with light streaming in through an immense wheel-window in the West wall.

I looked back through the still open doors and saw the nun disappearing down the hill towards the old abbey ruins that lay beyond the church.

And, still in the dream, I knew I had handed over Una’s spirit.

It seemed that I woke up almost immediately, got out of bed and went into the living room. Una lay on her side, bleeding profusely from the rectum. I went quietly into the kitchen to fetch one of her favorite biscuits. Her eyes were closed when I returned, but she took the biscuit and slowly ate it. And then she died, her head in the crook of my arm.

Graham Collier, author of What The Hell Are The Neurons Up To?, is an exhibiting landscape and portrait artist in Britain, an artist-philosopher in America, and a frequent Antarctic voyager. more...

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