There is another side to St Francis, of course, one that I remember learning about in grade school (parochial, suburban). He beat himself pitilessly, and denied himself every possible comfort. But he was gentle with animals. When we were in grade school they didn’t tell us about the self-mutilating part of St. Francis, just the stories about birds, foxes and wolves tamely approaching the gentle man in the woods. I was enthralled.

Is it contradictory that St Francis was viciously self-abusive and also gentle enough to overcome the instincts of wild animals? Maybe the two characteristics are not opposite, but convergent: the only thing Francis accepts in himself is his ability to be gentle and loving. Everything else about his humanity he loathes, demonstrably. His acceptance of the part of him that is gentle and tender is as extreme as the rejection of everything else about himself— his physical needs, his irksome body which he punishes as odious.

My afternoons are a torment. I can still be somewhat productive in the morning, but after my unnecessarily abundant lunch I sit on the couch with my books, and with Virgil. He jumps up beside me after I get settled, and turns around three times. Sometimes he ends up facing me, and he puts his muzzle in my lap with a sigh. He relaxes, and I relax into sleep.

I awake to dusk, and I gradually parse the colors on the floor: the partially torn cover of a book published by Princeton University Press.

But this brown and black creature loves me. This animal is completely unable to recognize a threatening gesture, like kids throwing rocks, or drunks who brandish sticks. Because of a lifetime of affection from me, he cannot comprehend malice. I taught him about tenderness, which is all he knows.