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Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Sad Life Lesson

I am learning a life lesson the hard way. Someone I knew through the Internet learned recently that one of her beloved golden retrievers, at age 11-1/2, has osteosarcoma, an aggressive cancer of the bone. Because weakness in his hind legs would make walking on three legs impossible, amputation of the affected front leg was ruled out.

Many members of an on-line golden retriever forum to which I belong, far too many of whom understand the pain of dealing with a dog with cancer, have written words of support. But the words of one person, who lost one of her dogs to cancer a couple of years ago despite amputation of the leg, really hit home for me. She wrote about how dogs live 'in the moment.' A dog doesn't know he has cancer or some other illness. He doesn't know that his days on Earth are limited. He doesn't worry about growing old or gray. He doesn't fear the future or worry about what might happen.

As any dog, he knows that he loves his family and his canine brother. He knows that he likes belly rubs, sleeping in the sun, rolling in the grass or playing with his toys. He likes going for walks and snuggling on the couch with his family. That is his world -- the here and now, the present. His mind is not consumed with fear or worry or 'what if' thoughts. While his human family worries about him and struggles with a variety of medical and treatment decisions, this beloved dog goes on with his life, reveling in the special attention he is receiving. His love is pure and given selflessly. His joy is real and uncomplicated. He lives each day as it comes, knowing that his humans will do what is best for him and take the best care possible. He has no fears, no worries. The 'now' is his world.

We humans can learn a lot from our 'simple' dogs. We can learn to appreciate the little things: a nap in the sun, a good stretch, cuddling with a loved one, a tasty meal, just being outside or spending time with those we love. I love the way my dogs greet each new morning, ready for a good meal, a trip outside, and a walk. I love the joyful welcome and exuberance of my dogs whenever I return home. It doesn't matter whether I have been gone for 20 minutes or for 2 hours or for 2 days. They are always so happy to see me. When my daughter and I returned home after a 3-day trip recently, our dogs greeted us with happy barks, squeals of delight and kisses.

Since I retired a couple of months ago, I have realized just how important it is for me to spend time outside. Even when the temperature soars in the high desert where I live, I still enjoy going for a walk outside. I leave my iPod at home, so I can focus on the world around me. I especially love hiking, and being surrounded by the beauty of nature. I have realized how much I love the smell of the earth after a rain. These simple pleasures are taking on greater importance the older I get. I find that I have little patience for things that waste my time, such as repeated phone calls to straighten out a 'customer service' issue.

We 'advanced' humans make things so complicated; we fill our lives with worry, much of it about things that will never come to pass or over which we have no control. We toil and struggle to 'get ahead' so we can buy expensive things. Our dogs are happy with a new ball or squeaky toy, or just spending time with us, sitting in front of the television or exploring outside.

I guess worry and pursuit of tangible things are part of what separates us from the other members of the animal kingdom. But it's something that we need to do a better job of dealing with. We need to enjoy our favorite people, things and places for the joy they bring us. Let's not waste our precious time worrying about the future and the 'what ifs' of the world. We need to embrace the present, to live the life we have while we can. Tomorrow will be here soon enough.