Thursday, May 14, 2015

Our Dogs

The recent conclusion of my dogs life brought home to me many of the reasons to get a dog. Also much clarity on the nature of grief. Here then is a convoluted collection of my thoughts.

The Day After

The day after my dog died I had to go to the studio and work on my exhibition which was a week away. It was a beautiful day, there was nothing wrong with it except in the continuity of my life it happened to fall right next to the day I put my dog down. It rained sporadically and heavily that day (which I find beautiful) and in the studio the sound of rain is quite amplified by the roof provided which I really like.

Was the day tainted by a sense of loss? I don't know. I can say the week leading up to my dog's death was much harder than the week that followed it. The emotions can intrude upon any moment, before and after her death as the mind prospects or retrospects. Loss can also be bitter or sweet. 

Imagine though that you could take the ribbon of your emotional life and cut it up and rearrange it. You could chuck the grief of loss, of putting down a dog at the start and then have the uninterrupted joy of companionship over the course of it's life. Emotionally you wake up one day with no dog and no grief or sense of loss. You could also arbitrarily through your terrible weeks somewhere in the middle. Would you do it? Would you get it out of the way some time, like eating your vegetables before hitting the proteins?

Would you rather start a relationship with the bitterness of the breakup and then enjoy a comfortable couple of months, years etc before climaxing with puppy love and infatuation? Then to wake up somewhat nonchalant and indifferent?

The first thing is that the terrible feelings of loss are unavoidable, and I would not spare myself the suffering. What is more horrible to me though is the prospect of a relationship ceasing and waking up without suffering the next day because I'd pre-digested it. The time is right, the emotions are right. Grieving may be unpleasant, but I would not avoid it and it can be beautiful. It really only gets ugly when people fight it.

Turns out I was capable of functioning in the wake of my dog's passing. I wanted to. I drew a piece to honor her and my time together. If I had been unable to function I would have made that call also and not gone to the studio. But nothing was forced, nothing was repressed.

The Gift

Bess was old, she lived 50% longer than her breeds life expectancy. She was my second dog and I always thought of her as 'the new dog' even though the longer she lived the greater the proportion of my life she had shared. In fact my new dog had been with me almost half my life. Even so dogs life spans are such that barring a tragedy I should survive my next two or three dogs. 

I think it's a Louis C K bit, I'm not sure but he says the deal of marriage is that you don't die alone. Or rather that one of you doesn't die alone. 

It seems obvious that one half of that deal gets it better than the other. Most people's preference I presume is to die in the company of their loved ones. Particularly their most loved one. 

The worst of my grief was a feeling of apathy towards my own continued existence. An indifference to the reality that I would go on to live a new era without Bess. Being that I recognised the feeling it posed no danger, so please don't worry, indifference is very different to depression or suicidal thoughts. It was much as I feel when I go to a party and contemplate the effort required to talk to strangers and make new acquaintances. A process I will drag my feet through because the rewards are there.

I made two promises to myself, that Bess would feel loved every day and that she would die in my arms. These promises are much easier to keep with a dog than with a person. I managed to keep them, and the last week of her life were stressful because of the thought of dropping the ball so close to the end. It would have been devastating. 

Dogs instinctively may actually want to go away quietly and die, but the opportunity their short lifespans provide all of us, is the ability to experience giving someone company as they die and being left alone in the wake of it. It is good to realise you have the fortitude to be the one who lives on alone. And that you can give this precious gift to somebody else where they by definition are incapable of returning your kindness. As you love a dog, you can become capable of truly loving someone.

Fuck Reunions

If there was an afterlife, an eternal existence, I would admittedly probably prefer to be walking my dogs through some infinite parkland with no real awareness that the walk ever ended. That would be nice, that I could handle for all eternity. But fuck it, the afterlife is a ridiculous concept, and by 'ridiculous' I mean 'worthy of ridicule'.

The great thing about a dog is that their ability to pull you into the present moment. I miss my dog, but I have many, many years experience of walking her on a daily basis. And as per the Lana Del Rey lyrics in the last post 'heaven is a place on earth with you' this I think is the truth of walking a dog. If you can bring yourself to be present for it.

The human desire for the infinite, unending afterlife I think is a sickness in the Zen Buddhist sense, so too with abundance. The desire is a desire to calm the anxiety that we are underachieving, the paradox is that in the presence of abundance we are far more likely to underachieve than in scarcity. Infact just juxtaposing the concepts of abundance and underachievement make the previous statement sound like a truism.

There is no need for my and my dogs souls to unite in some afterlife, we achieved the pinnacle of our companionship while alive, and dogs are masters of doing this. Your best opportunity to do so is with a dog. I have it, it's done. Only dementia can take it away, and I am of the opinion that the tragedy of dementia is that I would already have lost the self that holds such experiences.

Like running a marathon or staging an exhibition, I may have the desire to do so again but what is immutable is the fact that I've done these things. The opportunity has not been missed as afforded by my life. I need no second (and infinite) chances to get things right, furthermore, having had the moments walking my dog or even just waking her with a patting session in the morning, or preparing her dinner (or making her pancakes) I was, long before I started my current meditation regime, able to be present and appreciate these moments. Even during years where my mind was a tumultuous place of stress.

The afterlife can only diminish the value of my actual life, and the lives we share with our pets and everyone else for that matter. Economics may not get much right, but it gets scarcity and value right.

Civilization and its Contents

There are only two things I've done in my life where I'm confident I've done well. One is tutoring a refugee and the other is pet ownership. Say what you will about the pitfalls of human civilization, a well cared for dog though is an achievement. Much as I believe life can only be truly enjoyed when you accept your own mortality, to lesser conviction I believe the human race is on the whole probably mortal.

Sustainability movements, like exercise for an individual may be a good idea, but they are no fountains of youth. I don't see particular value in beating up on ourselves from all the mistakes we have made from being a short-sighted ignorant collective. As 'You Are Now Less Dumb' points out, if any member of modern society were able to be transported back into the middle ages, our ability to recreate the modern world would be negligible to laughable. Civilization is a collective effort, and even a leading physicist, biochemist or electrical engineer would be able to make little progress alone.

On an individual basis, we are mostly passengers that on occassion contribute some minute increment of progress to the whole. One thing all of us can do though, is take care of a pet.

We may be plagued by anxieties, fucked up by our parents, under severe economic strain and questioning our place in the universe. But a dog can have a good life, and we can give it to them. And we should. And feel proud of that achievement.

No comments: