By Bob Quarteroni
Mark Twain famously said that ““I believe our Heavenly Father invented man because he was disappointed in the monkey.”
He was sniffing down the right path, just had has animals a little mixed up.
I was thinking this during a marathon two-and-a-half hour run with Opie, our beloved 18.8 pound rescue doggie (getting fat on Paul Newman jerky, but his personality is stronger than mine and I can’t refuse him) and Molly, who is at least 16 (another rescue so who knows) and is as deaf and allergic to authority as I am.
We were hiking Bear Creek Camp, a magnificent religious-affiliated outdoor masterpiece that holds no animus against atheists or anyone else, when we came to the Sanctuary, an outdoor retreat and meditation center and I plopped down for a rest.
Fast as only an overstuffed little sausage mix dog can move, Opie came bounding up, leaped onto my lap and started furiously kissing my nose which really isn’t as big and bulbous as it looks in the photo, he says pathetically.
Opie’s lovable tongue lashing – he can seemingly produce about 30 licks a second — as always made me laugh and filled my heart with joy.
Dogs are, it seems to me, slightly smelly perfection. Their joy in life, their innate goodness, their almost scary capacity to love always makes me marvel.
Which leads me back to Twain, god, monkeys and why we can feel such incredible emotions in a seemingly uncaring universe.
If there were a god, wouldn’t it have been sensible enough to look on the puppies it created and say, yes, this is my finest work; I have turned fur and saliva into perfection; now I can rest.
Seems like a no-brainer to me. You’d have to be nuts after gestating a black lab to keep going and create the two-legged mess that is mankind.
Just one more reason I don’t believe in the Big Unlikely. Even a god couldn’t be that blind – or stupid. But What about chance, chaos getting Opie and me to the Sanctuary, bubbling over with emotions.
This is where it gets messy. I don’t know how Opie got here or what filled him with such an abundance of grace, love and the most beautiful, artless passions.
And if I don’t know how I certainly don’t know why. Why passions so intense, so searing; often giddily happy yes, but just as often, almost unimaginably painful?
It seems obvious to me, as Annie Dillard wrote, “Our excessive emotions are so patently painful and harmful to us as a species that I can hardly believe they evolved.”
Me neither, but they have, and they are our heaven and hell, our alpha and omega, our purest joy and our deepest pain.
To go from the cosmic to the little panty-crotch eater, why does Opie leave the sniffing and running he loves to stop and show me his boundless heart? What does he get out of it? Nothing it would seem. But love, canine or human, may be magically inexplicable, but is a fact writ large.
The confusion compounds when you consider that most of creation, flatworm to clam, snail to lizard, operates quite nicely, thank you, without these messy emotions.
If a slug misses the ecstasy of love, it also escapes the pain of a caring that a loved one is dying.
It’s only a few of us with the problematic gift of deep emotions. And it’s not just people we’re talking about.
In a segment that made my heart lurch when I first read it, Dillard noted that some higher animals have emotions that we think are similar to ours:
“Dogs, elephants, otters and the sea mammals mourn their dead. Why do that to an otter? What creator could be so cruel, not to kill otters, but to let them care?”
It’s a mystery, a gift and a burden. If we feel deeply, we must feel pain as sharply as pleasure.
So while I bask in Opie’s kisses now it’s with the knowledge that soon, perhaps very soon, one of us will vanish from the scene and the other will mourn.
The terms are clear. The happiness we feel today, and tomorrow, and next year, comes with an expiration notice.
That sounds bleak but it isn’t. Real bleakness would be not experiencing the joy of Opie’s kisses and all the other emotions that separate us from the placid frog and the indifferent caddis fly.
So I can turn to Opie right now, snuggled in his blanky and pressed against my hip, happily sleeping and making the wonderful little sounds we call purring, and know for a moment the small slice of peace I am allowed and cherish.
We won’t have this forever, but we have it right now and right here, and that’s enough for me, and as far as I can tell, for my baloney-breathed little love bug as well.