This week I’m one of the Baby Boomers who’ll be added to the ranks of the program that’s the closest this country has to universal health care: Medicare. Whew! Made it! I almost feel winded, like I should be panting.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons that, on the occasion of turning 65, I’m less attuned to issues and more reflective of all of the dogs I’ve been privileged to have. Or possibly it’s because in dog years, I’m only about 9. Or, it might be because the perspective that time offers helps me be grateful for dogs’ enduring faithfulness. (I’m no cynic, but sometimes I really appreciate the comment attributed to 18th century French economist and revolutionary Jean Marie Roland: “The more I see of men, the better I like dogs.”)
I especially appreciate my longtime companion, Beefheart, who enlivened my life with 14 years of genuine companionship; my current pal, Jake, a British lab who has a big heart, nice smiles and watches TV with me; or Jake’s predecessor, an unforgettable English pointer named Georgia.
Born partly brain-damaged and almost blind, she was saved from puppy euthanasia by my wife’s late husband, who named her from the 1960 hit by (blind musician) Ray Charles: “Georgia on My Mind.”
A sweet-tempered, gentle soul, Georgia never growled, and howled only at fire sirens – until she went deaf a couple of years before her organs failed and she had to be put down.
On that terrible day, in the veterinarian’s room, I held Georgia and stroked her face and rubbed her ears the way she’d always enjoyed; I trembled as the needle went it and wept, sniffing quietly (although at one point I had a stupid male thought that I was “holding it together” pretty well until I glanced at a mirror and saw a big snot bubble hanging from my red nose.)
That was such a wrenching experience that I resisted welcoming another dog into our home until some six years later, when my wife and son brought a rescue puppy home from a St. Louis shelter and a new bond was quickly forged.
“His name’s Gunther,” they said.
“No,” I replied. “He’s Jake.”
I thank God for all my years, of course, but particularly for the blessings of Jake and Georgia, Beefheart and my family’s entire virtual kennel of kindred spirits: Duke, Bucky, Zappa, Benji, Bobber, Molly, Hendrix, Stanley and Stella. Together the names may sound like the cast of a play, but, if so, it’s been a comedy-adventure more than a drama.
No matter what, they always forgave us; they never lied (although, OK, they could spoof us into extra treats or walks).
Who knows for certain whether God admits our pets into Paradise, but I believe in a just Creator who has a sense of humor and an appreciation for love, period. Further, I strongly feel that Georgia, Beef and the rest all deserve Heaven more than most of the rest of us human beings.
Another 18th century writer, English poet Alexander Pope, wrote about a like-minded person, who “thinks, admitted to that equal sky, his faithful dog shall bear him company.”
Musician and novelist Kinky Friedman in 1993 wrote a lovely line: “When you die and go to Heaven, all the dogs and cats you've ever had in your life come running to meet you,” and I hold onto that thought.
Also, nearing age 65 – or 9! – I enjoy the silly but sincere prayer I have on a t-shirt: “Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks I am.”
And on my birthday, I decided against taking part in the People’s Climate March in New York City. Instead, I’m going “to go for a ride in the car!”
I may even hang my head out the window and let my tongue loll around some.
Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.