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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #116

The card dangled above the old lady’s bed. It read “God is Near” but it wasn’t like the usual religious text. It didn’t have a frame or ornate printing. It was just a strip of cardboard about eight inches long with plain lettering which might have said “No Smoking” or “Exit” and it was looped carelessly over an old gas bracket so that Miss Stubbs from where she lay could look up at it and read “God is Near” in square block capitals. [Miss Stubbs has just lost one of her beloved pets, a dog named Ben who died of nephritis at an advanced age. Vet James Herriot chooses words of sincerity and the heart’s truth over orthodoxy.] I went back and sat down by the bed. Miss Stubbs looked out of the window for a few moments then turned to me. “You know, Mr. Herriot,” she said casually. “It will be my turn next.” “What do you mean?” “Well, tonight Ben has gone and I’m going to be the next one. I just know it.” “Oh, nonsense! You’re feeling a bit low, that’s all. We all do when something like this happens.” But I was disturbed. I had never heard her even hint at such a thing before. “I’m not afraid,” she said. “I know there’s something better waiting for me. I’ve never had any doubts.” There was silence between is as she lay calmly looking up at the card on the gas bracket. Then the head on the pillow turned to me again. “I have only one fear.” Her face changed with startling suddenness as if a mask had dropped. The brave face was almost unrecognizable. A kind of terror flickered in her eyes and she grasped my hand. “It’s my dogs and cats, Mr. Herriot. I’m afraid I might never see them when I’m gone and it worries me so. You see, I know I’ll be reunited with my parents and my brothers but ... but ...” “Well, why not with your animals?” “That’s just it.” She rocked her head on the pillow, and for the first time I saw tears on her cheeks. “They say animals have no souls.” “Who says?” “Oh, I’ve read it and I know a lot of religious people believe it.” “Well I don’t believe it.” I patted the hand which still grasped mine. “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans. You’ve nothing to worry about there.” “Oh, I hope you’re right. Sometimes I lie at night thinking about it.” “I know I’m right, Miss Stubbs, and don’t you argue with me. They teach us vets all about animals’ souls.” The tension left her face and she laughed with a return of her old spirit. “I’m sorry to bore you with this and I’m not going to talk about it again. But before you go, I want you to be absolutely honest with me. I don’t want reassurance from you – just the truth. I know you are very young but please tell me– what are your beliefs? Will my animals go with me?” She stared intently into my eyes. I shifted in my chair and swallowed once or twice. “Miss Stubbs, I’m afraid I’m a bit foggy about all this,” I said. “But I’m absolutely certain of one thing. Wherever you are going, they are going too.” She still stared at me but her face was calm again. “Thank you, Mr. Herriot, I know you are being honest with me. That is what you really believe, isn’t it?” “I do believe it,” I said. “With all my heart I believe it.” James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small (1972), pp. 302, 307-308

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