69: Unearthing the Meaning of Life

69: Unearthing the Meaning of Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Dog Did That!

Unearthing the Meaning of Life

I have a simple philosophy: Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s full. Scratch where it itches.

~Alice Roosevelt Longworth

It all started a few weeks ago when my ancient Beagle, Buddy, picked up a stale dinner roll while on one of our walks around the neighborhood. Buddy is famous for the things he finds on his walks. I’ll be strolling along, lost in thought, and then I’ll look down and somehow, Buddy will have an entire cooked pot roast in his mouth. He has found, at various times, a frozen baked ziti, a toy reindeer, and a turkey carcass. You don’t know humiliation until you’ve trotted around the neighborhood with a purple satin bra dangling from your dog’s mouth.

And woe to the person who tries to get any of his treasures away from him. He may only weigh twenty-two pounds, but I doubt that Ali and Foreman, together and in their prime, could pry Buddy’s finds out of that mouth. Which is why, when I had to deal with the dinner roll, I didn’t get too worked up over it. At least it wasn’t desiccated animal remains. After a few feeble stabs at getting it away from him, I let him bring it into the house. I figured he’d eat it and we’d be done with it.

Wrong. With much deliberation and effort, I watched Buddy bury the roll in our couch cushion, a snack for a rainy day. I decided to let him have his fun. I could move it later when he wasn’t looking. As if he could read my mind, a few minutes later, he dug it up and moved it under the dining room rug. Shortly after that, he dug it up again and reburied it elsewhere.

It was quickly becoming clear that Buddy was obsessed with this dinner roll. My sweet little puppy was responding to something older and stronger than he, something dating back to the primordial ooze days. In other words, my sweet little puppy was losing his sweet little puppy mind.

Over the next week or so, Buddy spent most of his time worrying about his roll. My husband and I would be sitting and reading contentedly on our couch. Buddy would be wedged behind my back like a pillow or snoozing on my husband’s chest. Then, for no reason, the dog would snap to attention and stare at us. It was obvious what he was thinking: “What am I, insane? Lying here and sleeping, when these people are undoubtedly scheming to get my dinner roll!” And then he’d storm off, with that determined look that said “Not while I’m alive, suckers.”

Once again he’d dig it up and rehide it. I pulled down my bedcovers one night to find it sitting on the mattress. It turned up in the linen closet, mixed in the dirty laundry, in shoes, in the kitchen pots and pans drawers. (How did he open the drawers? How did he get it into the hamper?)

He started to resemble Ingrid Bergman being driven insane in Gaslight. The darting, scared eyes. Not knowing whom he could trust. His burials became more frantic, less meticulous. One day the roll was pathetically sticking out from underneath the bath mat where just anyone could find it.

I, on the other hand, was starting to worry about ants and mice. The roll was taking on a slightly greenish hue and was now hard enough to break glass. Why didn’t I just throw the thing out? Because there was something about Buddy’s desperation that deserved respect.

Finally, it had to end, as these things do. One morning, Buddy moved the roll around a few times, but you could tell his heart wasn’t in it. With a great sigh, he eventually picked up the dinner roll, walked to the front door and scratched to be let out. He went to the maple tree in our front yard where he dropped it without any ceremony. The responsibility of being Keeper of the Roll had just become too much. He sprinted back to our house as frisky as a puppy.

“Good boy!” I cried, as proud and weepy as any mother at her child’s first piano recital.

You never know when universal truths are going to turn up by the side of the road. Buddy and his roll taught me this: that sometimes there is victory in defeat. That it can be liberating to walk away from the object of your desire when you realize that you no longer own it — it owns you. But that takes strength, wisdom and dogged determination.

~Beth Levine

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