Growth and adulthood are never easy, but children and animals often make the best teachers.
My UNC English professor once remarked, “If children and dogs like you, then you’re OK.” Save yourself a million dollars on psychiatric fees, and follow this pearl, which many of us already do; and slowly, but surely, I guarantee you will awaken. You will understand mysteries, and behold the grandeur.
Like when I was in the hospital, and a bunch of us – adults and children alike – were playing volleyball. For 30 minutes we were equals, and an 8-year old boy counseled, “Don’t be afraid of the ball.” He wasn’t afraid; so why should we adults be? The kid must be a doctor, banker or lawyer now. But that day, he revealed. Fear, its many manifestations and conquest – that is the constant refrain, is it not? Life consists of hitting that ball.
And I first learned that “dog is my co-pilot” in the seventh grade, way before the saying was cool. My language arts teacher then was also my friend. She lived in my neighborhood, and game me a part-time job: caring for her beagle, Ringo.
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Ringo was handsome, docile and playful. Caring for him was a joy. The affection was mutual: he would often try to prevent me from leaving by grasping my leg with his front paws. But beyond throwing Ringo a ball and petting him, what could I learn from a dog?
One day, I decided that I would just feed Ringo as much as he desired. A growing dog needs plenty of food, I thought, and what’s the harm? Besides, Ringo's mealtime – for me – would be simpler.
So, instead of a three-quarters can of Alpo, I fed Ringo one, two, three cans. He gladly accepted the second and third. Pleased with myself and my investment in the dog food industry, I went home.
The next day after school – I don’t remember whether someone rang the doorbell, or if I just opened the front door – I discovered a “present”: a neat mound of vomit, right on the doormat. Oh well, at least Ringo had made clean-up easier. He had never before been to my house, yet somehow he found it. And his lesson resonates: you can’t just give a loved one what he or she wants; even if your son coaxes, cajoles, begs, screams for that BMW, resist, O lonely soldier, resist, and one day your son – probably – will thank you. At least he won’t vomit on you, unless, of course, he’s drunk.
So the next time your dog lets you go gentle into that dark night, or a teenager helps you find your car at Southpoint, or your child gives you the reason to go running or play tennis, or even observes that the emperor wears no clothes – you can say, I learned something today. Maybe the length of a beard doesn’t determine wisdom. Maybe children and animals can lead us. Maybe children and animals can rule the world.
Dhruva R.J. Sen lives in Chapel Hill.