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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

I opened the car door for the family dog last week, and she balked. “Heidi” is usually eager to jump into the car, but the old hound just stood there. “C’mon!” I coaxed. “Get in!”

She made a leap, but fell short. She lunged again, but her hind legs couldn’t lift her. My heart broke for Heidi who, at 9 years old, is a geriatric hound. The vet told us so much six months ago at her last checkup, but we didn’t want to hear it. I boosted her into the car and felt a sudden nostalgia for her puppyhood.

It’s hard to watch your enfeebled dog struggle against the inevitable. Such changes mark the passage of time in unsubtle ways. Dogs in particular accelerate these changes because dogs live intensified lives. The compression of their years – one dog year for every seven human years – hardly seems fair.

Heidi has gray around her muzzle. She doesn’t prance on our walks anymore, but trudges dutifully behind. She comes down the stairs with slow, plodding steps. She sleeps a lot. Her muted mannerisms have muted our home, and we all feel sorrow for the decline in her quality of life.

In reflective moments, my wife and I marvel that our lives have been so consistent for so long, that we live by the steady, nurturing patterns of our own design. Perhaps it’s not very enlightened, but we find comfort and happiness in our consistency.

I’m convinced this is why change is so often contested in our local communities, whether it’s cutting down an old tree or tearing down a historic landmark. Resistance to local land development is not necessarily intended to hamper progress or curtail entrepreneurial ambitions as it is to protect the symbols of our collective memories.

We lean on those symbols and memories as footings for identification with a place and a time. We want things to remain the way they are because it’s unsettling to witness alterations that disembody us from the physical context of our lives.

That’s why sweeping changes, like surrendering the personal automobile or curtailing consumerism, become personal beachheads of resistance. We are accustomed to the things we know and are reluctant to give them up, especially by force of edict. The same holds true for our ideologies, mythologies and illusions. Familiarity rules!

Watching our old hound dog struggle to jump into the car made me realize how fleeting are the seemingly solid hallmarks of life. The Buddhist belief in the transience of being offers a spiritual rationale and coping mechanism, but it’s still harsh to adjust one’s mind to the inexorable rotations of the Earth, each of which brings change.

“This too shall pass” is an irrefutable truism usually applied to suffering, but it applies to joy, pleasure and satisfaction, too. The only permanence is impermanence, but we struggle against it like Sisyphus, wondering why life seems punitive as we diminish.

Nature changes mechanically while man resists emotionally. The pine beetle is unconcerned about its role in altering our forests, while we ring our hands over dead trees. An extinct species passes away obliviously, while we mourn its loss against the fullness of life. Climate change is relentless, but we vow to arrest it in a proprietary role. Change is natural, even when it’s manmade.

Mirrors offer the most compelling expression of change with a daily reading of the lines in our faces. We can choose not to look into the mirror or we can gaze with detached amusement at our altered sense of self. Refuting the tectonic shifts of existence is futile. The choice is either acceptance or denial.

Perhaps the more pertinent choice is how we mark change. Is it only through loss, decay and fractionalization? At the height of this incredibly verdant, blossoming spring negative benchmarks are dichotomous with the vitality around us. Life renews itself. Youth is ascendant. Change begins with rebirth. Somewhere, a litter of puppies is being born.


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