Biff America: Alive and unneutered (column)
“It’s good to be alive — huh, Ralph?”
Ralph did not respond. He was busy licking balls of snow that had accumulated on his legs.
Ralph is a dog.
The two of us had just returned from a cross-country ski tour at sunset. I can’t speak for Ralphie, but for me, that ski was therapeutic. It was a day of tedious meetings along with holiday shopping, traffic and long lines.
But along with the frustration was the guilt/appreciation over the fact that so far, my worst days are better than many other folks’ good days. Truth is, I have absolutely no reason to complain. This year I have a few friends whose spouses will be noticeably absent from their holiday photos after having lost them to cancer. I know others who have dealt with unimaginable family health and finance issues. I can only hope that if and when I’m faced with something as catastrophic, I can display a fraction of their strength, courage and dignity.
But being an entitled American, I can always find something that could be better. To quote Voltaire, “Best is the enemy of the good.” Or, to quote almost every parent of my generation, “Quit your damn bellyaching or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
Ralph is our God-dog. Our friend was out of town visiting family and we were dogsitting for a few days. The sun was about to set; I grabbed my headlamp and put my skis, pack and Ralph in the truck and headed out.
Once we hit the trailhead, both of us were moving like creatures newly freed. My petty frustrations melted away as we slid effortlessly through the woods. We stopped to offload some liquids and watched the sun set behind the peaks.
The last couple of miles were mostly downhill and in the dark. I put on my head lamp but did not need to turn it on until we reached my truck. I let the motor idle for a few minutes and drank some leftover cold coffee while Ralph licked his legs. While I drove back down that snowy road, Ralph put his paws on either side of the heat vents and let the snow drip off.
“It’s good to be alive — huh, Ralph?”
Dogs don’t seem to be cursed with the human foibles of insecurities and introspection. They live in the moment. They can be happy, sad, hungry, horny, angry and a host of other emotions, but I don’t think they can appreciate the sense of the unknown. When I say, “It’s great to be alive,” of course I’m comparing it to the alternative.
Just as a frustrating day makes you appreciate a ski tour squeezed in at sunset, even the worst day alive is better than the best day of death. Or is it?
Of course that is the most asked question and debated concept that has ever faced the human species — is there an afterlife, heaven, nirvana, and if so, do they have skiing? As I get older I’m more aware of life’s finality which allows me to appreciate the interim between sliding on snow and having my ashes residing in Tupperware. Ralph couldn’t care less; he lives for bones and immediate gratification.
There is an old country and western song which asks, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” Life’s contrasts are what make living all that more special. I wonder if I’d love all that I love as much as I love it, if I knew it would all last forever. The concept of finality makes it all the more precious.
I tried to make all those points to that dog as we drove though the dark towards home; he didn’t seem to get it. In truth he isn’t the same dog since he was neutered; I can relate. (Though I do feel sorry for that whole neutering practice of man’s best friend, I would like to think that suffering no insecurities or a need of toilet paper is a partial payback.)
We pulled into the driveway just before 6 p.m. My mate came out of our home carrying her phone. “It has been dark for over an hour, I was scared to death. I thought you hit a tree and were dead.” Ralph jumped out of the truck and ran towards the house and his supper. I gave my wife a tight hug and said, “Sorry to worry you, I should have called. No, I’m not dead or even neutered. It’s good to be alive and good to have someone I love worried that I’m not. I am a lucky dog……..
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.
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