“Well I’m saying that the Romans, raised by wolves, they see a guy turning water into wine, what do they do. They eat him. Cause there are no saints in the animal kingdom. Only breakfast and dinner.”
– Lorne Malvo, Fargo
“So God created human beings in his own image.”
A question has chased around my mind for months now. It’s a question that remains unanswered and one that prompts me to write as I do now.
Is a human being really more valuable than any common animal? Are we something special, or are we just cleverer than average mammals? “Apes with iPhones”
The rabbit trail that led me to this question is too long and meandering (and boring) for me to describe, but I’ll say it comes on the heels of my pondering the short list of activities I engage in that truly work to open me up, stave my anxiety, and allow me to feel the full measure of my humanity. The list is terribly short, having shrunk significantly as I’ve aged, and I suspect a day will come when I’ll be left with merely one or two things that keep me safely outside the confines of a padded party room.
A few days ago, I watched a dog get leveled by a car going forty miles an hour. I could see it coming from the moment the animal’s paws touched the asphalt of Tacoma’s 56th Street, pushing off in a hopeful attempt to cross four lanes of human guided missiles. Lane one, dog makes it. Lane two, (my lane) dog makes it. And here is where I began rooting for the furry daredevil, praying for the speed of angels to make the creature go faster. There was no other choice for the dog, no turning back, so the only thing to do was hope for a miracle. Two more lanes. Two more cars, both frightfully close.
Move dog, MOVE!
Lane three, dog makes it, I suspect with a little help from the driver who seemed to slow at the last instant, and (perhaps) a little help from those angels I was fiercely beseeching.
Go dog! Go dog, RUN!
In the realm of Story, there are symbols — objects or words that foster ominous meanings beyond their material natures. In Tolkien’s work, there are many of these — the Eye of Sauron and the One Ring. In the brilliant television show Stranger Things, these symbols, omens you might call them, are sprinkled throughout — flickering lights, pictures of malevolent vines drawn in dark Crayola hues. Perhaps the creepiest omen in all modern fiction is the floating red balloon from Stephen King’s It. “You’ll float too!”
Lane four. My personal dark omen. It will never depart me.
Years from now, a conversation may go this way:
“How was your day, Luke?”
“Good, real good, for about three lanes, anyway, then I hit lane four, and BAM!, everything went to hell.”
Lane four. Dog doesn’t make it. There was a moment, not as long as it seemed at the time, no longer than it took for me to take a single deep gasp, when the dog took flight, and a hopeful, withering part of me wondered if the creature might have leapt forward on purpose in an effort to reach safety on the sidewalk. Perhaps it would get away with no harm other than some bruised ribs and the newly acquired wisdom to never again attempt a real life game of Frogger. But there was nothing intentional about the way the poor thing flipped paws up in midair, landed on its back with an awful slap, and skidded twenty feet across the soaked pavement, landing in a pool of oily rain water in the gutter.
My vision of this event will likely fade with time. But not the sound. Not the anguished cries of the daredevil dog, writhing in a gutter, absent the comfort of family or friend.
That dog was meant for something. It was meant to be someone’s friend.
This is what I kept thinking throughout the day. I had a dream then, one of those waking dreams that’s so vivid you almost think you’re living it for real, that you can do something, change the past even. In this dream, I was the driver in lane three, and I saw the dog coming. I slowed so I wouldn’t hit it, but noticed the car in lane four was not slowing. Lane four driver was in his own head, unaware of what was about to happen. So I made it not happen. I swerved sharply and crashed hard into that car, pushed it right up onto the sidewalk, allowing the dog to escape unscathed.
The other driver, still unaware an innocent canine had nearly lost its life, leapt from his car and screamed at me, “What the hell are you doing?”
I said, “Saving that dog’s life, you dumb mother fucker!”
I have this t-shirt that was given to me as a gift. I don’t wear it in public very often, but every time I do, I receive compliments. The shirt reads, “The More People I Meet, The More I Like My Dog.”
Who’s life is more important? The dog’s or that of the driver who ended it, or any of the rest of us who navigate mindless concrete mazes, lost in the busy little realities we’ve constructed for ourselves? These days, it’s difficult not to prefer the dog, isn’t it?
One of my favorite mystics, when asked what makes humanity unique in the animal kingdom, says this: “While we are not the only creatures on earth to make things, we are the only ones who create with intention.”
“Create with intention”. I feel a quiet thrill inside when I think on those words. I happen to be one of those strange folks who chooses to believe in emergence, that humankind is on an upward trajectory toward goodness and justice, and I don’t believe the whole earth needs to be nuked by an angry deity and rebuilt from stardust to get us there. But lately, I’m having a hard time seeing our upward trajectory. I’m so disillusioned by the constant divisiveness and lack of basic kindness among many of us, that I find myself thinking it should have been one of us howling in that gutter. It should have been any one of us, rather than a poor innocent dog.
The theories for what’s behind the recent flare ups of anger, racism, gun violence, and the surge in general asshole behavior are various. Social media in our face twenty four hours a day is as likely a culprit as any. But I think our unquenchable appetite for digital media is only a symptom. I think the real problem is we’re not creating enough. We’re consuming like we’ve never consumed before, but it feels like the more we consume, the less we create. I wonder if it’s even possible to be a consumer and a creator at the same time. I don’t believe it is.
Sam Harris talks about the pros and cons of losing one’s sense of self. For me, the thought of losing myself is terrifying, until I remember that I Iose myself all the time. You do as well. When you become immersed in a task, particularly one that contributes to a Work that fuels your soul, when you do what you’re “meant to do”, you become immersed. You forget yourself for awhile. I believe human beings are born to be creators, and when we participate in the Work of creation, we become something else, something more than apes with iPhones.
I couldn’t save Daredevil Dog, but I can create this Work. I can cast light on a dark moment, offer solidarity in the pain. Should the friend of Daredevil Dog ever happen upon these words, I hope he or she knows I’m sorry for what happened, and I’m not the only one. All of us — those who were there, and all those who are reading — we are sorry for your loss.