By Bob Quarteroni
A long essay on how both beauty and cruelty can exist simultaneously…..and the wonder of Opie. For Harrisburg.
‘We are alone, absolutely alone on this chance planet; and amid all the forms of life that surround us, not one, excepting the dog has made an alliance with us.”
By Bob Quarteroni
In my world, everything is cinders and emptiness. The universe is indifferent, uncaring and aloof. And I am an insignificant dust mote in a vast fathomless mystery, here for the merest eye blink.
Right, my glass is not only half empty, I don’t believe I have a glass, or that glasses even exist.
I believe life is essentially a meaningless riddle, something that we, with our finite understanding, could never possibly begin to understand even if there was something, the unmoved mover of my King’s College theology classes, to explain it to us.
It would be like teaching differential calculus to a flatworm. You could try but….
As J.B.S Haldane said, “The universe is not only stranger than you imagine, it is stranger than you CAN imagine.”
So I see life as the ancient South Sea islanders proverb goes: “We are born, we eat sweet potatoes and we die.” Simple. Short. Absolute.
Or as Albert Einstein said, in a spirit and total acceptance that I understand, “Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world.’’
Me too Al.
In this aloof universe, we find unfathomable pain, cruelty and wanton destruction. We know not why. But we know that we all suffer. It’s there, but I can’t tell you why.
As Shakespeare knew, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.”
I know, don’t invite me to any parties, it wouldn’t work.
So, born, suffer, blink, die. Pretty simple.
Except that there’s Opie, a 17-pound doggie miracle that I cherish but am a loss to explain, or slot neatly into my nihilistic world view.
Opie is the soul mate of my life, a small dachshund/min pin mix with a skin problem and a personality and soul that has totally enraptured me.
He is slightly smelly magic. To look into his bottomless brown eyes takes my breath away: It’s like looking into the beginning of time, the center of the cosmos.
I know this sounds silly but what can I say, It’s real. In 70 years I don’t think I’ve ever felt this immense emotion before and that even includes – and this would probably keep a psychiatrist busy for decades – my human relationships.
I don’t know how to reconcile my bleak, random view of existence with the presence of a creature who is to me, pure beauty, total innocence, a rebuttal of all my negative beliefs.
For me, Opie is a miracle, inexplicable and total. His joy in life, the radiance of purity that emanates from him, his sheer sweetness and total Opieness are an ineffable gift that I do not understand, but fully treasure.
He is everything that, essentially, I don’t believe in.
But the fact is that he is here and is beauty, grace and pure happiness incarnate.
This question of explaining the wondrous beauty of the world co-existing with the most awful evil has been bedeviling me my entire life.
A lifetime of searching and I don’t have clue one.
It’s been puzzling thinkers for millennia and it’s the central question of Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” the single, incandescent book that has had a huge influence on my life.
“Cruelty is a mystery, and the waste of pain,” she writes. ‘’But if we describe a world to compass these things, a world that is a long, brute game, then we bump against another mystery: the inrush of power and delight, the canary that sings on the skull.”
That mystery of why both cruelty and beauty – aka Opie – exist is — to torture Winston Churchill’s description of Russia –“a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, inside a mystery.”
“Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them,” Dillard wrote. “The least we can do is try to be there.”
So that’s what I do. I let my nothingness recede and I focus on the little dog on the couch, miraculously rescued from a high-kill shelter in the south and sent to me by some mysterious force to open me to a sense of wonder and, improbably, happiness.
Opie is a simple doggie and does simple doggie things that I see as joy incarnate on four paws. He is a magical mystery pup, and while I can’t explain or understand this mystical bound, I understand, as did Norman Maclean in “A River Runs Through It,” “We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.”
Opie, I love you.