The Secret of Life (What the Dogs Have Taught Me)

  
A family sits huddled in a small room in the veterinary clinic. Mother is sniffling, tears stream down her face as she attempts to stifle her sobs. Little Sister is almost inconsolable with grief. Even Dad’s eyes are red and watery and he sits in silence wishing he could say something to make it all better but feeling only helpless. Brother, now twelve, is standing by his mother and little sister, stroking their hair to give them comfort. He is the only one who seems to have it completely together. Yet, it is he whom you might expect to be struggling the most. The vet has just left the room with the beloved family pet. Lucy, the dog who has been such a vital member of the family for the last 12 years, has reached the end of her life. The family has just gathered with her here in this little room to bid her farewell. It has reached that point where her spark has gone out and suffering has set in. It is time to let her go. Everyone in the room knows this is best for her, that she will go peacefully and without suffering. But it doesn’t make it any easier. Yet, for some reason, Brother seems to be more at peace with it than the rest–so much so that his mother and father have started to notice and are beginning to wonder how it is that he is holding up so bravely. Brother and Lucy were inseparable. They both entered the family in the same year and no boy and dog were ever closer. How is it, Mom and Dad wonder, that Brother is the one who is showing the least outward emotion?

In the car on the way home, Sister, still extremely upset, says, “Why did Lucy have to die? She was only 12 years old!” Dad replies, “Sweetheart, they say dog years and human years are different. They say every dog year is like seven human years. So if you look at it like that, it is as if Lucy is well into her eighties in human years. That is actually a good long life.” “Dad is right,” Mom chimes in, “try to think of all the love she got to experience.” The car remained quiet for a few moments, everyone trying to comprehend and find comfort in what Dad and Mom have just said. Brother, who has been the most emotionally calm and steady member of the family throughout the morning, breaks the silence. “I think I know why dogs don’t live as long as humans. We are born and grow up having to be taught how to live a good life. We have to be taught how to be nice. It takes us a long time to learn how to try to love everybody. Some of us never do seem to learn. But dogs are born knowing how to do those things. Lucy always greeted me like I was the most important thing in the world to her. She was always so happy to see me. She loved me no matter what kind of mood I was in. She loved me like that every single day. Every single day. Since dogs know how to love like that when they are born, they just don’t have to be here as long as us.” Suddenly little Sister has stopped crying. “Yeah,” she says, suddenly becoming more chipper, “I think that’s right.” Mom and Dad have begun to tear up again, but this time, it is for a totally different reason. 

  
I didn’t make up the part of the story that little brother tells. In fact, that came from a viral meme that my daughter posted on her Instagram this morning. I just wrote a little story around it. But the point of it, I believe, is a good one to keep in mind. We are only given so many laps around the sun in these short lives we live. To spend too much of our time dwelling on negative things seems, to me, to be a form of self-destruction. Why do we so often choose to poison the precious days we have with hatred and negativity? When you really sit and think about it, it’s madness! 

One of my favorite songs is by James Taylor, called The Secret O’ Life. If you aren’t familiar with the song, or even if you are, I encourage you to click on the song title above to listen to it, read the lyrics, and reflect. In the song, JT claims that the secret of life is “enjoying the passage of time.” Obviously, there is more to it than that, but I really think he has a point. Life is full of little joys that we run the risk of missing if we are focused too much on the heavy stuff. We are all forced to deal with the heavy stuff often enough in life. Why, then, do we so often choose to sit around worrying and dwelling on negativity? Especially since, when it comes down to it, most of that stuff is well beyond our realm of control.

I am not suggesting that the secret of life is unplugging from reality and living with blinders on. I am just suggesting that perhaps finding a “happy place” to escape to for significant portions of our daily existence might make for a better time for us all. I keep an eye on the news each day, but I try my best not to live in it. I try not to let it dominate my every thought. Take some breaks and enjoy life. I guarantee the news will be waiting for you when you have to return to reality. 

I think about the dogs that I have known in my life. I never knew any of them to dwell on the negative. The only times I have ever known any of my dogs to be upset (other than if there were perceived dangers around) are when they sensed I was upset. Dogs know when their people are not happy and they do not like it. They will do what they can to console us. 

Not too long ago, I found myself really down in the dumps. Life’s circumstances had thrown me a real curveball. I fell into a brief depression. I took to bed one afternoon in a pretty low state. My little dog knew it. She would not leave my side. She stayed right with me and I could feel her concern. I took comfort from her. 

Dogs don’t have great intellect. A dog will never write a great novel or send a rocket to the moon, but they know things–and we can learn something from them if we’ll pay attention. 

Dogs are trying to teach us what they have known from birth. They want to tell us that we are not here for all that long, so let’s enjoy the passage of time. 

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