We have already mentioned that leading up to last year’s voyage, and again with this walk, a significant number of things started to go wrong just before we set out. These also affected those about us and whilst I am loath to mention ‘spiritual attacks’ it certainly has felt on both occasions as though some malignant force was conspiring against us. As Adele has mentioned there was a list of things just before the walk commenced, including no hot water, no web site and the cross suddenly and unexpectedly breaking in two places the night before we set out. Last year part of this was our beloved dog, Jester, who had developed a slight limp just before we set off. Just after we departed he went to have what was thought to be a ligament repaired and we were told it was caused by an inoperable tumour, with his life expectancy being a month to six weeks at best. Thus I spent much of the voyage waiting for a call to say he had passed on. Every time an opportunity presented I shot home, looking to spend a precious moment with my canine best friend and of course my wife. However there is much that is unusual regarding Jester’s story and in his memory, I’ll record some of it now as some of it predates my receiving the Gift of Faith.
We started looking for a dog from a rescue organisation and had seen one called Geoffrey. A black Labrador puppy, the dog warden was obviously smitten by him. I felt this wasn’t our dog and the next day the warden rang up and confirmed she would keep him. About six months passed and we received a call from a different Labrador rescue charity who had a black puppy for us to see. Adele just said we will take him, we didn’t need to see him. I asked what would we do if it had a name less suited for a dog, such as Geoffrey and so followed a debate over what he would be called should that be the case. We went to bed with it still unresolved. That night I had a dream where my beloved Grandfather came holding a black Labrador puppy. I knew it was my Grandfather but he was much younger than when I knew him and was wearing a cream suit. In his arms was a dog which he held out saying, ‘Andrew, here is your dog, his name is Jester’! I woke the next day and suggested this as the name for our dog and Adele thought it was OK but her niece was Jessica and so we settled on Chester. It didn’t feel right but I agreed.
Just over a day later the Labrador rescue organisation rang and told Adele the puppy was called Jester. She initially thought this was an elaborate hoax and it was only after some explaining that the charity lady said he must be destined for you. My Nan was alive at the time and I travelled to see her with my story. She broke down in tears and reached for her wedding album. The dream I had was my Grandfather on his wedding day, in his smart wedding suit. Thus there was a message for both myself and my Nan in that dream and whilst I never made any connection with this and religion at the time, it reinforced my belief that there was something else beyond this life.
Jester turned out to be a perfect dog, very intelligent and never needing a lead. He also used to take himself behind a bush to go to the loo He rapidly became part of our family. One day, having had a problem with his flatulence that had seen our friend Arthur ban him from his pub, the Horse Guards, we picked up all the fallen apples. We came home to find him on his hind legs, front paws around an apple branch, shaking the tree to make apples fall. His life with us was a stream of small stories where he was obviously highly intelligent. During this period he was loaned to a friend to walk who had depression, and that therapy helped our friend tremendously. He was a dog who was well able to chase and kill a rabbit but who also came to us with a living baby chick in his mouth, knowing, I guess, that we would know what to do to help it. He left someone on the shore to pursue us SCUBA diving, swimming out to a buoy and then looking suitably concerned as we sank below the waves to three metres. Once he realised that by some magical trick we were not drowning, he then proceeded to have a valiant attempt to retrieve the anchored buoy and in the end we had to coax him back to shore. On board our yacht he often spent voyages figuratively with his paws over his eyes during the trip out or back, until one day he just went berserk. It was some time later we realised he could hear the dolphins arriving as we took shifts keeping him from leaping in with them.
Another time a friend, a Christian, whom had been suicidal, was staying with us to help them reflect on life and find a foundation on which to restart from. They took Jester out for a walk and wrongly assumed he would take them where he normally went. Instead Jester took them in an entirely different direction, to the grave yard where our baby son is buried. Apparently he went straight to a grave which effectively meant something to the person concerned. This experience helped them revive their faith, make some firm decisions and to face the dark clouds that surrounded them. They are now in a new place and happily married. Who knows if this was God or chance, but it certainly felt like the former.
Thus as Jester deteriorated last year, with moments left I found myself praying for him in a way only grief allows. I begged God to intervene, to give us more time with him and suddenly his leg started to move. Within a day there was such a remarkable change that our neighbour asked if he had been operated on. He was still limping but from last summer through to last week Jester gained an inexplicable lease of life, far beyond anything the vet was able to explain. We even had recent conversations regarding the possibility that the diagnosis, made by an expert, might be in error. As we picked up our cross, Jester deteriorated suddenly and yesterday he died. Adele and I were with him as he passed away, he went calmly with much love around him. Today we finished digging his grave deep into the clay soil of a friend’s farm in a wood where the bluebells thrive. Our friend’s dogs are also buried there and now so is Jester surrounded by God’s creation, wet with our tears. Tomorrow we pick up that cross again, fully in touch with our mortality and having a living insight into grief. Jester was a gift to us, faith was a gift to us and we share this with you today as a gift to you.
Andy and Adele Carnegie