It is well known that dogs are masters of living in the moment and giving unconditional love. They teach us to see joy wherever we look and whatever we do. We may be completely safe and comfortable in the company of our dogs, for in their eyes we could never be a disappointment. It is more than their grand enthusiasm for life, the fact that our caring for them nurtures our compassionate self – making us happy, or that a hug can boost our oxytocin to induce joy as if we were hugging a loved one. There is another lesson that dogs teach us, and it is a tough but important pill to swallow. That is that time is brief, and life is doomed to end.
Sadly, dogs do not live long in comparison to we humans who love them, and in the wake of their passing we are left struggling to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts, move on, and search for meaning and approval in their absence of our biggest fans. Whether it was pure chance or an intentional act of intelligent design by the creator(s) of the universe to teach us this harsh truth, the brief time which we get to enjoy with our dogs is a painful reminder of the fragility of life and of the unstoppable march of time.
As much grief as we may experience through our learning of this lesson, it is one we must be ever mindful of, and will ultimately be forced to learn whether we want to or not. The time of all living things on this earth is doomed to end someday. Life has yet to show any possibility of escaping death, and in fact life could not exist where it not for its equal opposite, death. Whether we live a few days as if we were a mosquito or hundreds of years like trees and turtles, life will end, as will the lives of everyone we care about.
At this point you are probably thinking: hey Matt, chill the fuck out man, this blog is supposed to be uplifting and if you’ve made it this far you’re likely on the verge of tears, a panic attack, or just plain depressed. My intent is quite the opposite. Knowing the brevity of our time should encourage us to live happier lives, to savor every moment, to spend every second loving and supporting our fellow beings, and to view every instance with profound wonder and joy. Time is too short to fear death, and we have precious little of it left (however much that may be) to waste any more of it not being completely and wholly happy in the beauty of our existence. If life were everlasting, then there would be no joy or meaning in anything. There would truly always be tomorrow, and no moment would hold true value or importance. The very finite nature of existence is what makes it special.
Dogs perhaps our best reminder to make the most of our time. I was struck by this idea while enjoying an early morning cuddle with my dog, Floyd. For the umpteen-hundredth time, I was struck by just how much love and appreciation I have for him, which made me want to savor the moment even more, knowing that someday, hopefully in the distant future, I will be left with mere memories such as this.
Let not the tone of this post cause you any worry over Floyd’s wellbeing. He is quite alright and thriving. As I type this my left elbow is resting on his back as he snores loudly beside me on the sofa, after having spent a long day enjoying the company of my sister and her boyfriend’s dog Moose. He is doing great. But not for the first time his presence and spirit have been a muse of sorts for me, inspiring certain revelations or reminders about happiness which I was encouraged to share.
When I look at him as I am doing now I see compassion, love, and kindness anthropomorphized. I also see a close friend, whom sadly even under the most optimistic of expectations will likely be parted from this earth within the next 15 years, likely sooner. I say this with little trepidation as I know that short of giving him love, affection, care, exercise, and healthy food, there is little that his mother and I can do to change this fact. What we can do is commit ourselves to enjoying every moment we have together, such that when that inevitable parting comes, we may say goodbye without a regret about the things unsaid or the memories we never made together.
Seneca the Stoic once said: “it is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it… life is long if you know how to use it.” Funnily enough, death is the only certainty in life (along with taxes if you ask Benjamin Franklin) yet most of us live as if we were destined to live forever. We prioritize that which matters little, which brings us neither joy nor enhancement of our character nor the betterment of society, and when we lie on our death beds many of us reflect with pity and regret that we didn’t enjoy or make greater use of our time.
I am reminded of this reality every time I look at Floyd. Knowing the compassionate nature that he and his fellow canines have for us, I would not be surprised if there was some conversation in another realm between dogs and the creator(s) of life, wherein our beloved four-legged friends agreed to sacrifice their time on earth, living shorter lives, in return for reminding we humans of the importance of making the most of whatever time we have got.
Whether this is accurate or merely my attempt to make sense of the cosmic injustice of short lives for dogs, the importance of the lesson remains. Time is short, if you waste it. If you make the most of it, appreciate what you have, live with virtue, treat others with kindness and respect, then you will have made the most of your time and lived a full life, whether you die at 50 or 100. Let not this lesson in love be lost at the expense of our beloved dogs. Hug the ones you love, say I love you often – and mean it, take a chance on yourself, prioritize health and happiness, and make the most out of this crazy ride on this weird blue rock that flies round the sun which we are all on.