This past month I lost my beloved golden retriever to cancer, something almost all dog lovers have experienced at least once in their lives. I write this article not to eulogize my pet companion, but rather to celebrate this bond we humans have with our animals and, ultimately, the many other things we share as part of our common humanity. No matter our political affiliation, ethnicity, race or gender, most of us love our pets and can relate to the joys of pet ownership and the pain of losing them despite the differences that may divide us.
Many people have commiserated with me about this intensely personal experience and have wanted to share their searing memories of what it was like for them to lose their animal companion. It is comforting to know others have gone through this, too, and want to help me with my raw emotions. Some of these people may vehemently disagree with me about politics, but we are completely in sync about this subject.
It’s not just the grieving process of losing a beloved pet. We all know what it’s like to grieve the death of a loved one, to love a child more than life itself, to take care of an elderly parent, or to enrich our lives by spending time with family and friends. Yet, if you spend any time on social media or watch and read the news, you would think we have nothing in common, and all we do is constantly fight with one another.
It’s not so much that our politics are divisive, which is understandable; it’s forgetting that our shared experiences are so much greater than what divides us. Is it necessary to reduce our political opponents to a subhuman existence? Just think how much healthier and happier we would be if we could disagree with people without the rancor and malice that infects our politics today. Why is it necessary to despise people because they happen to see the world differently in political terms? I bet if we could embrace our common humanity, the rate of suicides, drug use, and mental illness would considerably subside. Without human connection and caring, we are all the worse off for it.
Maybe I am able to see this more clearly now because I am grieving and genuinely welcome any comfort friends or complete strangers can offer me. It makes me want to turn off the TV, get off the computer or cell phone, and shut out all the negativity with which I am constantly bombarded. I don’t want to hear politicians tell me what the truth is or vilify anyone who doesn’t experience this truth. Or as Antonin Scalia said, explaining his unlikely friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas.“
Now getting back to my dearly departed dog. Life will not be the same without him. I will miss the walks, cuddling, play, fierce loyalty and his unique ability to calm me regardless of what I am dealing with at any time. Life goes on, but it will be less joyful and rich without my buddy. If the final lesson I learned from my furry friend is to treat my fellow humans with greater respect and dignity, then his life will have served a larger purpose than keeping me company for the short period of time he was here on earth with me.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled.
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone — wherever it goes — for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.
“The Power of the Dog” by Rudyard Kipling