Life is Good. I’m a Dog… And You’re Not!
Four-legged Lessons for a Day Well Lived
Mark and Winifred Oman
DATELINE: Carmel, Ca.
Five-thirty in the evening. Enjoying a glass of Panilonco Merlot Malbec from Trader Joes. I turn and smile at my five-year-old terrier mix rescue, Winifred, sprawled on the couch, head between paws. We lock eyes. And I can’t help thinking…
Am I the only one who looks in the eyes of his dog and knows exactly what she’s thinking?
Good. Then you understand. I have no doubt Winifred does her damnedest to remind me how lucky I am to have her as my teacher. Her look is unmistakable: So many things to be thankful for. Get with the program, Oman!
I’m working on it. Give me a break, girl. I’m only human!
Of course, that is exactly the problem. I’m human. Winifred’s a dog. As someone very wise once said, “the teacher will appear when the student is ready.” And boy was I ready three years ago when Winifred picked me out of the primates wandering past her pen at a Monterey County SPCA adoption event. As I walked past, her eyes flashed, Where do you think you’re goin’? That’s right. I’m lookin’ at you, sweetheart…
Ever since I have found myself reminded, cajoled, and dragged at the end of Winifred’s leash to explore lessons I should have learned by now. I feel no embarrassment in saying that since that fateful day I have become more attuned to what, for Winifred – and increasingly moi – constitutes a day well lived. Then again, what does that even mean… A day well lived?
Aristotle called it eudaimonia, often translated as happiness, joy, thriving and relishing life in all its twists and turns and detours.
Quite a load to fit into one day. And while what follows may not get you all the way to eudaimonia, if you are willing to entertain a shift in perspective, Winnie and I promise to help expand your vision of how to begin the journey. All it takes is a willingness to look at things from the other side. Or in this case, the other end of the leash.
Case in point, has it ever occurred to you that, in fact, you do not take your dog for a walk. It’s your dog that takes you! Look at the evidence: Who leads the way, you or your pooch? Who has to poop? Winifred takes me for a walk three times a day whether I have to poop or not! I rest my case.
So… If you are willing to let your dog to take you for a walk, then get your tail in gear, follow your nose, and open your head and heart to the grand adventure of getting through each day with as much joy as humanly possible. (Not in be confused with the nearly impossible canine joy Winifred exudes every day.)
As I write at my desk, Winifred trots into my office and gives me the look. You know what I’m talking about. Imploring, heart-wrenching, impossible to ignore, a laser beam into your soul instantly making you putty in her paws.
I swivel around giving her room to jump on my lap, her back against my chest, ears erect like goal posts, my chin splitting the uprights. Her eyes peruse the computer screen. She knows this is about her.
I better get it right.
RISE AND SHINE!
Winifred is an early riser. I was less inclined. Until Winifred showed me the error of my ways. I confess I was not a quick study. I got quicker when Winifred greeted dawn’s early light with her tongue up my nose. Good Morning!
Within a week, I was sufficiently trained. Now I am up, dressed and making coffee while Winnie, no fool, has my side of the bed to herself, stretches out and catches a few extra zzzzs on my pillow.
Next on the morning schedule, stretching class! Watching Winifred do her downward dog and shake out sleepy muscles looks so good I follow her example. Got the downward dog. Still having trouble with upward human.
Winnie is patient. Sits and watches while I take off slippers and put on shoes for our morning walk. I fumble with the laces on my sneakers. I swear Winnie gives me the whites of her eyes, Paaa-lease…
It’s cold out there, so I grab a sweater and coat. Winnie is less patient. To her and my wife, who has already finished a two mile walk up and down our hill, it is not cold out there. It’s brisk!
All right. I’m sorry. I’m a wuss!
Now bundled for a stroll in Antarctica, I smile at Winnie, “You ready?” She jumps up on my barrel chair, does her circle dance, tail thumping a happy samba. I hitch her up in halter and leash. Winnie grabs a hank of leash in your mouth and drags me out the door.
Out the backyard gate, Winnie pulls me across a field to the street. My two wheels are no match for the power of her four legs. She is thirteen pounds of four-wheel drive pulling a biped with a bum wheel. Neighbors smile – no question as to who is taking whom for a walk.
It’s also true that it is not horribly cold. Or maybe it’s just that Winnie’s pace is making me trot behind at a pace giving me mild aerobic exercise in the fresh, brisk air!
I unzip my hoodie, ready for the assault on the stairs to the top of Ribera Road.
Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived
If your dog is fat, you’re not getting enough exercise.
~ ~ ~
Back home in my office, lungs full of fresh, brisk air, coffee at my side, I peruse emails, local and national news on various websites.
Winnie sits in my lap, watching me get all riled, talking back to the screen about what’s happening in the world. I know exactly what she’s thinking. Who are you talking to? And what are you accomplishing?
Of course, she’s right. Why can’t I be an observer? A quiet witness to what’s going on. Not so emotionally exercised, making myself miserable over things I can do little about?
Winifred understand this. For she is ever the observer, witness to my human foibles. She knows when I am most vulnerable. And has no compunction reminding me when I need to give it a rest! She picks up one of the many tennis balls scattered about the room. Starts bouncing it. Tosses it in the air, catches it in her mouth. Impossible to ignore. If I do, she jumps on my lap, ball in mouth and shoves the ball in my face.
Winifred and Mic Jagger would be best buds. She knows you can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you get what you need. Winifred knows what she needs. And thankfully, what I need!
Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Will Lived
Your dog knows when it’s time to
give it a rest and go play!
~ ~ ~
Until recently, play was a big part of my life. As recreation and in my business. While Winifred loves to chase balls – dirty old tennis ball at the top of her list – I have spent the better part of my life chasing golf balls. My work as a golf humorist in books and as a magazine columnist, afforded me years of research into the addiction suffered by millions. To fully understand the causes and cures for “acute ball-beating dependency” I had to succumb to agonizing hours of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of that dimpled little devil. And I confess, I was also an enabler, caddying for amateurs and pros whose lust for the links knew no bounds!
What happened next is not relevant here, except to note that several years ago, I stopped playing the game. (I am reminded of Lee Trevino’s advice to an amateur partner after enduring 18 horrific holes: “Lay off for a couple of weeks. And then quit for good!”)
Good advice. Shortly after hanging up the clubs, Winifred came into my life. And I have begun to play again. Her game. Her rules. She has taught me to have several balls ready for action. Our backyard is full of out of bounds from which she will not retrieve the ball – not so different from my golf experiences. Her rules of play are also not so different. Though it took me a while to see the similarity.
In golf, you hit the ball, chase after it, then hit it again. In Winnie’s ball game, I throw the ball, she chases it, then holds it in her mouth till I come to get it and throw it again. She also has a cute variation where after getting the ball, she trots off to hide the thing in some bushes for me to find. Clearly, our ball games have nothing to do with the word retrieve! Except on my part.
Winnie has trained me well. I am the retriever-in-chief – reminding me of the simple silly fun of play. She has me throwing the ball, chasing after it and playing hide and seek! So, we keep playing until a dozen balls are hidden around the yard.
Eventually, it is up to me to find all the balls while she stretches Sphinx-like on a chaise catching some sun and watching me forage in the foliage. She knows I need the exercise more than she does.
Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived
“You can learn more about a person
(and your pooch) in one hour of play
than you can in a year of conversation.”
Plato (and Winifred)
~ ~ ~
CONFESSION IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL…
…but bad for the reputation. So, I’ve heard. At the risk of my already shaky reputation, I have a confession to make: The older I get, the more I’m becoming my dog. There, I said it. I can no longer pretend otherwise.
Perhaps some of you can relate. There’s no escape. You will get older. And you will come to appreciate your growing dogginess in the process.
That said, it’s just as true that the older I get, the more I’m becoming a lot of things I did not foresee a short time ago. But becoming my dog? And no, I am not talking about looking like my dog. (Although friends have whispered that our furry white faces do bear some resemblance. I am flattered. Though no question Winifred’s snout is far more adorable.)
While we’re on the subject, the more I’m becoming my dog, has nothing to do with actually becoming a dog. I have yet to notice any physical canine manifestations. No furry protuberance arising from my tail bone.
The more I’m becoming my dog, is more about a revived appreciation, even celebration, of whatever wants to happen. Which is rarely the way we had it all figured out and planned.
Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived
Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish,
but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen,
and your life will be serene.
Epictetus, Greek Stoic
Sniff the silly stuff waiting to surprise you every day!
Winifred, Canine Wild Woman
~ ~ ~