Sunday, July 5, 2009

Flush & Honey Vanilla Chamomile

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..."
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Right before bedtime every night, I will usually snuggle up with (what else?) a good cup of tea and a good book. I will be right in the middle of a gut-wrenching declaration, or a revelation, or just a dang good plot twist when all of a sudden... I hear it.


It is my cat, Lizzy. Like the inspiration for her name, Elizabeth Bennett, Lizzy is beautiful, intelligent, active, and - most of all - talkative. 

"Maw! Mawmawmaw! Maw! Maaaaaaaw!"

If only life could be like Lassie. I struggle to translate Lizzy's cries. "Are you hungry? Do you want to snuggle? Do you need something?" Inevitably the thing that I try to comfort her with is the very thing she DOESN'T want. 

If only we could get inside of our pets minds and decipher their meaning.

That is exactly what Virginia Woolf (the object of my current literary obsession) has done with Flush: A Biography. Flush, a spaniel, is taken from a life in the country to live with Elizabeth Barrett Browning (who is at this point just Elizabeth Barrett) in London. The poetess is living as a recluse and as an invalid, and Flush - making the ultimate sacrifice that a dog can make - gives up his love for trees and fields for her. 

But hold on just a second! Before you even go there, let me tell you what Flush is not. Flush is NOT Lady in the Tramp, The Incredible Journey, or Milo and Otis. Flush is a very true, real, and beautiful love story. Flush and Elizabeth both sacrifice for each other, spend their time together, and ultimately must learn how to communicate their love without the luxury of speech. This love that exists between them, this love that must be felt more than it is expressed, is so deep, and Woolf writes it perfectly. There is not even a trace of Disney here. 

Another fantastic thing about this story is that we witness the courtship of Elizabeth and Robert Browning through Flush's eyes (Flush was, in real life, the only one who DID witness their courtship). BUT, though the Brownings are one of the most compelling couples in history, this is not a story about them - it is about Flush and Elizabeth, the depth and range of that magical thing "connection," the sacrifices that one will make in order to keep a connection alive and well. 

So what did Flush teach me? What I learned from Flush is that loyalty and love are things to be cherished - things that cannot be found easily. And when those two things exist in a relationship and they are real, you don't need words (not even Elizabeth Barrett Browning's).

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