… Baron the big black Labrador Retriever: the things he taught me while he was on this planet.
Baron started out on a brave road; his first owner’s mind was deeply troubled, and it was truly good fortune that led Baron from him to my friends. You might say that Baron was sort of born out of that difficult intersection between chaos and peace, and from that day forward demonstrated with every breath how to avoid the pitfalls of the dark side.
I remember my friends holding him when they first got him – swept up in their arms like a little baby (although even as a weeks-old puppy, he was already pretty big), and talking to him the way we talk to babies, as though they’ll understand. Of course, he did understand: You love me. Awesome! Unlike babies, Baron grew to his full size in a matter of months, becoming very quickly a hundred-and-twenty pound locomotive. He steered like a cow, but, like any freight train, once he was going he was going, and if you didn’t know him and he was running at you with his enormous mouth hanging open, you figured this was probably your last moment on earth because he was going to eat you. If you did know him, you figured this was probably your last moment on earth because he was not going to be able to stop or turn, and anyway you would be drowned in a sea of drool.
I do not believe that any scolding he received ever amounted to anything, because everything that happened before now was as lost to the mists of time as the names of the dinosaurs. Similarly, he remembered no hurt or transgression for more than a moment. Meals were likewise forgotten in an instant, so that it was always time for more food – including yours. You stopped looking directly at your plate of dinner? Yoink. You’re tossing out perfectly good Styrofoam? Yoink. Embarrassing things in your bathroom garbage? Yoink.
People would enter the house to be greeted by a tail wagging so hard that it could sweep them off their feet and possibly break a bone. He clearly felt that they had been dead since their previous departure, and he was ecstatic to discover they were still alive. “I’m so glad you’re here because I’ve never eaten in my life and you will feed me and if you don’t I’m so glad you’re here because YOU ARE HERE!”
He only retained the memories that really mattered: the whereabouts of his stuffed toy Duck-Duck, the whereabouts of nourishment, shaking hands and “going long” and other tricks, and love. And, really, the first ones are just a little division of the last one – everything that mattered was about love. And nothing wasn’t love.
If you were sad, he would sit next to you with this aura of “What is ‘sad’? Is it edible? Should I destroy it with the poison gas of my breath?” Ditto for anger, or irritation, or anxiety, or any sign that you did not want to be licked to death today – “I will eliminate these strange words with the poison gas.” The only sentiment was love. The only time was now. The only future was coming back for another potato chip.
But every freight train eventually stops, and this tail-whipping behemoth of joy was eventually called back home, and none of the complex things in our complicated world could prevent it.
Then another friend lost her grandmother, and, in my mental search for what words could possibly make my friend feel better, I imagined her grandmother walking into heaven, where Baron is sitting running at her with his giant tongue lolling out of his big ol’ head, waiting for her bowling her over in exuberance as he explains in his particular way how to put down all that crap she had been carrying all her life … all the crap each of us carries for all the years we’re here – the struggles and drama and accumulations and mind-games and acquisitions and failures and hurts and comparisons. For my friend’s grandmother, the days of carrying that stuff are over. For Baron, there never were any days like that.
But I don’t want to wait until I die, or wait until I come back to this world as a dog. I want to listen now, and really get it now, and put all that stuff down now. The only sentiment is love. The only time is now. The only sadness is when one of the pack has had to go home before we were all done playing the game.
Thanks, Bar-Bar. I won’t forget.