Physicist Niels Bohr once said that an expert is someone who’s made every possible mistake in a narrow field. Well, I hate to toot my own horn, but I’ve made every possible mistake in about a million fields. Take blogging. As you can see, I started off to write a blog-treatise on leadership, which became a bogged blog when I reached the topic “leading up in an evil system.”
So as I prepared the next post, I found myself writing a meandering thesis on the nature of morality—how do you know what’s evil, when is it your duty to act against an evil system and when can you be excused for going along, consider the fact that terrorists always think they’re trying to change an evil system…. Ye gods. It was a Blog Hydra—every time I’d whack off a chunk of topic, two more would grow in its place.
My Blog Hydra
So anyway, I’m putting all those thoughts into my next book, because they’re book topics. Not so much blog topics. I think.
I am reminded of a time I gave a speech in one of the Carolinas—I don’t remember which Carolina, because I was speaking so often during that period that all 50 states blend together. I was tired and jetlagged, and my speech—how shall I say—sucked, sucked, sucked. I went back to my hotel room with the sound of pity-applause scorching my ears, and schlumped onto the bed under several tons of shame. Whoever had invited me to speak gave me a lovely room right on the beach, but I closed the drapes, feeling that if I couldn’t deliver a decent product, I didn’t deserve to look at the ocean.
Verboten to the Verklempt
Far too verklempt to watch TV news or drama, I settled on an Animal Planet program that seemed cheerful—a touching reality show about a woman and her wonderful service dog—until the dog got sick and had to be euthanized.
I spent the evening in the fetal position, numbed by bitter reality: I’d failed as a speaker, the Carolinians had been disappointed, and someday my dog would die. This all happened some six or seven years ago. Last week should have been much worse. Last week the reality was that I’d failed as a blogger, my Facebook friends had been disappointed, and my dog actually did die.
And yet, it was a great week, thanks to people like you.
I’ve had pets before, and loved them all. But Cookie the beagle taught me why some people spend more on their dogs than on their educations. Every morning of his life, he pressed the top of his head against any part of my body he could reach, cooing ecstatically just because I existed. He was with me during every grueling hour of writing and every rejection letter, before I’d published a thing. No matter how many all-nighters I pulled, Cookie stayed up with me. He was present for every life-coaching session held in my home office, greeting every client with deafening howls, parking himself in my lap, and silently emitting aromas to back up my tentative advice.
He was a good boy.
Cookie the Good, 1995-2009
True, he was also incredibly old—about 105, in people-age. He’d been partially fossilized for years, though we knew he was alive because he kept gaining weight. Two years ago, when he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, I started feeding him anything he wanted, figuring he’d last a couple of weeks at the most. But the new food rules made Cookie so happy he went into remission. Hefty remission. I thought I’d solved the weight problem when I promoted him from beagle to Bassett hound, but his metabolism kept slowing, he kept finding chocolate bars in my luggage. I was on the verge of promoting him again, this time to Land Manatee, when Fate intervened.
Cookie was out for a waddle when we met a human friend who sometimes gives him biscuits. He took off at a dead sprint and tore a ligament in his knee. It was the beginning of the end. Last week, an emergency vet gave us morphine and bad news (which as far as I’m concerned should always be offered in tandem). Cookie’s organs were simply shutting down. Doped as he was, when I put my arms around him Cookie lifted his head and gave me that utterly guileless gaze I loved to distraction for 15 years. Then he set his head on my hands and sighed with relief, and never breathed in again.
I cried for three days and two reasons: 1) because the end of a well-lived life is so sweet and sad and poignant; and 2) because so many people—this may mean you—were so nice to me. Despite my inadequate blogging, despite my failure to produce a cogent, snappy essay on the nature of evil and our moral responsibility to end it, dozens of people have sent me emails, cards, letters, and other varieties of kind wishes, just because my fat old dog died.
This has radically shifted my concept of reality. I’ve always thought the only way to earn acceptance is through continuous good performance—and even then, I believed, people who don’t approve of the performance want to smack me briskly about the head and face with a croquet mallet.
I am being forced to reconsider this position.
So many people have offered me love in the past few days, for no earthly reason except pure kindness, that I’ve come to a radical conclusion. It seems that the world is filled not only with human beings, but with human beagles. People who love you even when you’re not “productive.” People who don’t care how much you earn, sleep, weigh, or vacuum. People who accept and encourage and care, even when you fall off the communication map for months on end.
Who Some People Really Are
So this is my new attempt to make a few less mistakes in the narrow field of blogging. I’m sure I’ll make many more. Someday, maybe I’ll have made so many mistakes I’ll actually be an expert. But for now, I just had to write and say THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to every human beagle out there. I’ll never deserve to have you in my, life, just as I never deserved to have Cookie. The miracle is, we get love whether we deserve it or not. In fact, it may come to find us just when we think we deserve it least.
Now, that’s something to blog about.