As I understand it, and it’s my guess I understand it about as well as anyone, Existentialism is a philosophy that requires its adherents to stake out personal freedom in any situation. Physical restraints vis-á-vis personal freedom is not a problem seeking a solution. It is the way humans are, though Existentialism is better appreciated by studying dogs.
A dog readily accepts what befalls him and goes for whatever he was going for before. A dog becomes whatever situation he finds himself in. He can lose a leg, for example, and pay hardly any attention to its loss. It is simply his new condition, readily accepted and easily forgotten. Should a tennis ball be thrown for him, an amputee dog doesn’t hesitate, thinking, wait a minute, I have only three legs. He chases the ball. If a man, on the other hand, losses a leg—or the other hand—it becomes the focus of his life for as many years as he has left.
My dog Toby does a handstand, face deep into his bowl, and eats while balanced on his forepaws. Astonishing! I want to call out to someone, to verify that I can believe my own eyes. To Toby it’s no big deal, it’s merely how he feels about dinner this time. Later, I tell my friends about the phenomenon, but no one believes me. They don’t say so, they only smile and talk about something else.
Someday, I am sure, Toby will speak like a dude, and his first word will be, “No,” correcting some gauche behavior on my part. At this moment, as I type, he sits upon my lap, as is his due. Eventually he will lick my chin, signaling that it is time I stop my nonsense and take him to play with Max, the neighbor’s Labrador.
For those brief periods during which I did not share my life with a dog—college, the Navy, grieving the loss of the last one—I felt like a man who had lost the path.
The dyslexic believes in Dog, and so do I. Blessed be we.
Man can teach Dog nothing of any significance. Dog knows. Dog is always correct. What man painstakingly practices to attain, Dog already has in spades. He is detached from ego, he accepts what is, every response he makes is the right one—fear, fight, flight, and forget—and he enjoys a good night’s sleep after all.
Dog has a presence online but he blogs not, neither doth he manage a website. Rain does not stop Dog, nor does sun encourage him. Dog has no standard of beauty. Man drips with gold and subjects himself to bearing a stranger’s name, say Tommy Hilfiger. Dog might wear a simple collar, because it seems to please people and he can’t take it off anyway. Dog doesn’t know or care when man is naked. The rarest and most exotic of breeds is just another mutt when Dog encounters him in the park.
For Dog the journey is the destination. When he jumps into the car, he doesn’t know or care if he is going to Charlie’s house or to Chicago, to the park or to Panama. He need not know how long he will be gone. He need not pack for the occasion. How I aspire to be like Dog! How certain I am that I will fail.
Dog is a carnivore without explaining why. He farts in public without apology. He pukes wherever he wants to, including your bed, and then wonders why that should upset you. Man walks behind Dog on First Avenue and picks up his droppings in blue plastic bags. Down by the lake Dog rubs his neck, which he never feels bad about, in goose shit and then looks at you curiously while you wail. I’m covering my scent, you moron! he seems to say.
I sit on my porch reading the evening newspaper, bourbon and branch on the armrest. Dog’s nose twitches almost imperceptibly, and he gets all the news that’s fit to print. Hold the bourbon, pour the branch.
All hail Dog! Truly, Dog is great. On the overstuffed sofa of life, who could possibly sit above Dog? Cat.
(From my first non-fiction book, “I Feel Bad About My Dick,” due April 1, 2020…if the Coronavirus doesn’t delay publication.)