Things are going pretty well for me nowadays, but I have one inevitable tragedy in my near future. I’m going to have to say goodbye to what is quite likely the best dog in history of the world.
My dog Bamble is 12, and even though he’s still in great health, I know we have limited time left with him.
That’s a great realization, but what am I supposed to do with it? We still play with him a lot and go on walks, but we have to take it easy with him because he’s so old.
For every moment like this:
There are hours like this:
He loves his two walks a day, but when he goes on a third he sometimes gets really tired. He loves to play with balls and toys, but if we do it too much he’ll hurt himself (he’s got a puppy’s mind in an old man’s body – I can empathize). We don’t feed him too much junk because we figure he’ll live longer at a healthy weight.
But what then should I do to celebrate him even more while he’s here? He’s got a pretty great life for a dog, and he’s earned the right to chill out and sleep away most of the day. It’s not like I can strap him in a Baby Bjorn and carry him with me all of the time.
If he suddenly became terminally ill, we’d feed him delicious table scraps and scratch his ears non-stop and spend every waking moment with him. But he’s just old, so we keep to our normal routine. Why do we only face up to inevitable loss when it’s imminent?
A while back I thought about the day that he’ll be gone. I knew the rituals he truly loved – taking walks, throwing the ball – would be some of the things I missed most. How could I add another ritual that didn’t tax an old man who’s earned his rest?
I decided on something really simple. Even though I spend a lot of time with him every day, I’ve added a habit. Every night, the last thing I do before bed is get on the floor and hang out with him. I scratch his head and rub his belly and tell him he’s a good dog. It can take as little as a minute, but it’s become a very happy ritual for us.
Live In the Moment, Whatever that Means
Dogs do a great job of living in the moment; they’re not worried about tomorrow and they probably don’t even remember yesterday. There’s definitely a Zen-like quality to being a dog.
People aren’t so lucky. We can see the future and feel real joy or pain from the past, and that often leaves us living everywhere but in the moment we’re in.
We can’t turn off our forward- and backward-looking, but we can harness it. We should worry about tomorrow, but just long enough to refine how we’re living today. We can dwell on the past, but only to the extent it helps make this moment better.
We should look to the future so we can cherish the present and feel joy from the past.
I know a day is coming when my dog will be gone. I can’t change that, but I can use it to make small changes so I have more joyful memories with him and less regrets.
And this obviously isn’t just about dogs. Everything is coming to an end at some point. I’m an odd fellow, but I consider it a wonderful gift to know that all of the great things in my life will someday be gone. I’d love them to continue forever, but they can’t, so I can at least use that knowledge to drink deep from the well today.
My dog has had a long and great life, and he’s given us countless happy memories. But by thinking about the day he’s going to be gone, I’ve added one more. I will always remember how he and I ended each day at the eve of his life.
Every night, he’ll watch me from his bed. When he thinks I’m about to get on the floor, he’ll ease out of bed and hobble over to me, wagging his no-tail tail with a smile on his face. He’ll grunt his old man grunt when I get his ears in the right spot, and he’ll use his cold wet nose to let me know if I stop too soon. It’s a great way to end each day.