I used to think it would be hard being a dog, not knowing what was going to happen next — when the next meal would land in my dish, when the people would come home, where the car was going and when the ride would stop. It would be nice to be fed and walked and petted. It would be nice to not be expected to do the laundry, sweep the floors, pay the bills or hold down a job. But the thing I couldn’t give up about being the human in the relationship, I always told myself, was being in control of the whats and the whys and the whens.
I liked being the one driving the car. I liked being the one knowing where we were going and when we’d arrive.
But now my dog has cancer, and my whole year has not gone according to plan — at least not any plan I came up with. You don’t have to feel bad for me. I’m not sad. (Okay, sometimes I’m sad, but it’s not the overarching theme of my days.) In some ways this has actually been my best year, because I’ve learned a lot. Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m not driving the car. I don’t, as it turns out, have a clue where we’re going or when we’ll get there.
I’m starting to think my dog has it right. When he gets in the car and it stops at the vet, he looks a little bit disappointed. But every time he gets in the car, he acts like he’s going on a hike. Even if eight out of 10 trips lead to the vet, he still anticipates a hike. He still wags and barks and thanks the universe for the woods and the trails, the streams and the good smells. He’s fully invested in that hope, without any disappointment of a dream unfulfilled. The dream is always fulfilled — it’s fulfullable, which is basically pre-fulfillment — because it remains a possibility. This trip might stop at the vet, but that means the next one is the hiking trip, right?
And anyway, there’s always the whole drive to wag and bark, to anticipate and hang an excited nose out an open window.
I, too, want to live in that hope, and part of that hope comes from not knowing. Ultimately being the driver gives us about as much control as captaining a ship through a typhoon. Just because we’re holding the wheel doesn’t mean all that much. Nature, other drivers, fate, destiny, good luck, bad luck, potholes.
All these decades have I really successfully fooled myself into thinking I knew where this was all heading? How long I have, what I can accomplish, what my greater purpose is? Hell no. Those questions fill me with existential dread. I’m intimately acquainted with anxiety, with teeth grinding and clammy-palmed fear. I long for control because I can’t stand this feeling of free-falling. And yet to be human is to make peace with (or not to — many of us don’t — it’s a legitimate option) an existance shrouded in mystery.
The one in control is the one hanging an excited nose out an open window and anticipating a really good time around the next bend.
If not this bend, then the next.
That’s the meditation: be happy in the now. Wag, sniff, eat treats, relish walks.
Pet a dog.