“To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.” Milan Kundera
In my world, everything is cinders and emptiness. The universis 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 image, 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 of 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 uncaring 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. But it’s so very real.
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.
But then there’s Opie, a 17-pound miracle that I cherish but am a loss to explain.
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 particular 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.
Belief in an uncaring universe and the presence of a miracle with fur??? I can’t explain it either.
This question of explaining the beauty of the world co-existing with the most awful evil has been bedeviling me my entire life.
And it’s the central question of Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” the single work that has been the most influential in my life.
“Cruelty is a mystery, and the waste of pain,” she writes. ‘’But if we describe a word 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 exist hand in glove is — to steal from Winston Churchill –“a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
We can only ponder, and wonder and watch the show.
“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 I do. I sit with Opie on the couch and he does his simple doggie things that I see as joy incarnate on four paws. He is a magical mystery pup, and I can’t explain or understand it. But as Norman Maclean said in “A River Runs Through It,” “We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.”
Soon I’ll be going to the great perhaps without having figured out th eternal riddle. I know how little I know. But this I do know; Opie, I love you.