Another Golden Rule?
Updated: Jan 30
For more than two thousand years the standard for praiseworthy human behavior, unfortunately honored more in the breach than the observance, has been the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The beauty of that exhortation is that it incorporates into one single phase so many concepts deemed part of a life well lived: charity, love, respect, empathy, humility, equality, justice, community, interdependence, accountability, etc. Would that it were more broadly observed!
Life seems to come in waves. Childhood, adulthood, marriage, children, children growing up, children getting married, children having children, other people’s weddings, christenings, birthdays, anniversaries, and yes, sadly but inevitably, deaths and funerals. The good comes with the bad, the joy with the sorrow, the gain with the loss. It is just, to quote Disney, the cycle of life.
I’ve written probably more than my fair share of obituaries. Far from a sad task or obligation, I view the exercise as an opportunity to reflect on the life of a loved one and try, through the imperfect medium of language, to capture and communicate some glimpse of the uniqueness and consequence of their presence with us on this earth. The details vary, but the fact remains: many lives have graced this world and the loss of any life is a loss for all. As the poet John Donne famously wrote:
No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. … Any man's death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind …
When the time comes, I obviously won’t be writing my own obituary. But I know who I would like to do so. My dog, Cadbury.
You see, my dog is very smart, and he has developed a certain flair for writing. I like how he thinks and expresses himself. I also think him likely to take a kind (and hopefully favorably biased) approach to evaluating a life which he has been able to observe so very closely.
Someone once said, “I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.” I personally think that is a wonderful aspiration.
(Now, please don’t get me wrong; my focus on the opinions of dogs is not meant to suggest that the opinions of cats or other animals are not equally worthy of consideration, though I must confess to harboring the suspicion that cats can be a bit judgy at times.)
So I now propose another golden rule, not to replace the original but possibly to extend it a bit. I call this new rule the “Canini Commentatio.” It goes as follows:
“Live your life as if your dog will be writing your obituary.”
I think I can live with that (pun intended). However, just to hedge my bets, I plan to significantly increase the number and frequency of Cadbury’s daily treats.