Our dog’s name is Gatsby (yes, after the literary figure and soon-to-be Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle). And like most dogs, our dog does something incredibly annoying. Actually several things, but for now we’ll just focus on the one. And this annoying thing is every time we get ready to leave, he flips out, sprints around the house and runs to a favorite corner of the couch or under the table to hide, making a variety of noises the entire time. When we go to extricate him, he’s usually shaking, sad, and generally worked into a pretty hysterical state. The reason he reacts like this is because he knows that when we leave the house it means that he’s about to go into his crate, and he doesn’t like his crate (this seems to be a pretty universal canine crate trait). Or at least that’s what I thought the reason was. Until I noticed that Gatsby actually didn’t seem to mind his crate that much. It’s got enough room for him to move a bit and lay down if he wants, he gets a little treat when he goes in, it’s even got his favorite blanket in there for him to burrow in to. And when he’s in his crate, he’s actually quite calm — maybe resigned to his fate is the vibe — and exhibits none of the freak-out emotions that he does prior to being put into his doggie domicile. And that’s when it hit me: it’s not the crate he dislikes, it’s the fact that we’re leaving that he can’t stand. Gatsby has a lot of separation anxiety (more so than most dogs) and he loves to be around us (the order in which he likes us is actually hilariously and borderline rudely obvious), so I’m not overstating things when I tell you that us leaving is the worst thing that he can imagine happening. Compounding that dislike into something even more intense is that, as a dog, any time we leave, he literally has no idea when or if we’ll be back. As far as his little canine mind knows, this may be the very last time that he gets to see the people he loves most in the world. Gatsby simply lacks the capacity to spot the differences that indicate either a long vacation away from home or a quick run to the fro-yo joint down the block. So then in this new light, all the sadness, the shaking, the general “my world is collapsing around me!” emotions he goes through every time we leave makes sense. Gatsby might never see us again (as far as he knows) and that’s worth working himself into a lovesick hysterical sadness.
It’s easy enough to attribute a behavior like that to the inferior brain of a canine (you wouldn’t be wrong) and simply brush it off while mentally patting ourselves on the back for having such a supreme intelligence that we can decipher TIME and DISTANCE, etc. But really, we don’t have a superior mind, we have the very same flaw — just on the opposite end of the spectrum. Just as Gatsby overreacts and lets his emotions run wild, so do we err on the side of apathy and taking our loved ones for granted — assuming that there will always be another opportunity to show our affections or express our love.
The truth of the matter is that our time is limited, and there will be a day when the close friend, family member, or lover we casually say goodbye to doesn’t come back through the same door through which we saw them leave. I don’t say that to be needlessly bleak, but rather to (hopefully) open our eyes to all the wasted chances to show love that we let slip through our fingers on a daily basis. Do we need to treat every single goodbye like it’s the end of the world, or the last time we’ll ever see someone we care about? Of course not. But think about everyone you care about in your life, and take a second to think about the last time you really conveyed that love to them in a way that you were certain they really felt. More than saying “I love you” on the way out the door; a connection, a reminder, a moment that thanks for all they are and do, and that thanks them for their contribution to who you are. My guess is that it’s the sort of thing that we all need to experience more often.
With so much hate pouring out of deranged theatergoers and prejudiced chicken sandwiches, wouldn’t it be nice to be directly responsible for injecting a little more love into our broken little world?
I think so, and I’m certain Gatsby agrees. Man needs his best friends now more than ever.
I miss you too, buddy.