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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An old yeller dog

In a small village I pass on my daily commute lives a mongrel mutt whose taxonomy, if it lived in the American south, would be offered up as 'an old yeller dog'. This dog is about the size of a German Shepherd, has the coloring of a Yellow Lab... but has the bony physique of a Rhodesian Ridgeback.

What made me notice this dog years ago (and ever since) was its penchant for napping on the edge of, and often even in the middle of, the road.  Sometimes the dog would get up and give half-hearted chase to passing vehicles, but as often as not it would simply stretch out and let the traffic pass mere inches from its nose.

A couple of weeks ago I passed through this village and found the dog stretched out across the center line of the roadway, and initially assumed that its luck had finally run out.  But as I approached on my scooter, it lifted itself lazily into a sitting position and gave a tentative lunge towards me as I passed.  Once clear, I watched my pursuer recede in the mirror... and then shook my head as it plopped back down onto the warm pavement to finish out its nap.

Elsewhere along my daily commute, the roadway is dotted with wildlife-shaped grease spots and the fly-blown carcasses of less fortunate animals that have come to grief.  The only thing that separates these departed dogs, foxes, cats, partridges, etc., from the 'yeller dog' who has, thus far, survived to continue the chase, is the mysterious confluence of luck and fate which guides our trajectories from birth to death.

I can already hear your objection.  With a wave of the hand you probably object to my comparing the randomness of roadkill ('well, they're just animals... and animals die'.) with the prominence of our own roles in this world. 

My reply to you is that countless people die as anonymous to us as the cats and foxes that speckle the pavement..  All the time.  Wonderful people who in a perfect/fair/just world, would live forever.  Sure, if they are near and dear to us, then their departure marks the dénouement of an epic tale.   But if we don't know them, we think of them as faceless cannon-fodder. 

Literature, film and television have conditioned us to accept the untimely demise of supporting characters and bit players without too much thought... and to reserve our deeper emotional responses for the leading players:

Expendibility

The fact is; I have never met anyone who didn't think of themselves as 'the' leading man or woman... the hero of the long-running show called 'my world'.  Deep down, we all think of ourselves as special... which likely explains the confused look on the faces of so many mortally wounded or terminally ill individuals, as if asking themselves "How could I be written out of the script so early on?  I'm the star of this thing!"

My thoughts turned to the tenuous existence of that 'yeller dog' today because despite all my best efforts, stupidity, carelessness and tendency to live life far too frequently on the centerline of life's busy highway... I have somehow managed to make it to the ripe old age of 49 (tfu, tfu, tfu).

Sadly, I am little wiser today than I was at 39, 29 or 19.  But I have gained an appreciation for the fact that life can treat any of us as expendable bit players; writing us out of the story on the flimsiest of whims. 

Where at 19 I was indestructible, at 29 I was a superman, and at 39 I finally became somewhat mortal;  throughout the story-line of my life, I still maintained top billing on the marquee, albeit with the sense that even leading men have to take their lumps. 

But at 49 - nearly half a century on! -  I think I've finally made peace with the fact that not only am I mortal, but mine is just one of an infinite number of intersecting and overlapping story-lines.  Nobody remains permanently alone in the spotlight belting out solos and delivering witty lines... and nobody remains eternally huddled near the stage wings mumbling 'watermelon - watermelon' over and over to a bunch of equally anonymous town-folk. 

We all amount to something... usually something quite special, in fact.  But not, it turns out, nearly as special as we initially thought.  And I'm OK with that.  Really.

I know I usually compose a list of 'stuff' for my birthday posts... but part of discovering that I am just one of many books on the shelf, is the realization that people might not actually be hanging on every observation I have about life.  Who knew?

But for those who are interested, here are the lists from previous years:

48, 47, 46, 45, 44, and 43

Posted by David Bogner on June 23, 2010 | Permalink

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Happy birthday, David. I hope that you're feeling better.

Posted by: Rahel | Jun 23, 2010 2:08:05 PM

Don't worry! You're still my leading man!<3

!יום הולדת שמח

Posted by: zahava | Jun 23, 2010 2:22:19 PM

What I find interesting is that as I get older, my definition of what is "old" just gets higher. I used to think that thirty was "old". Now I am almost 60, and I have trouble feeling that this is "Old". I feel like the same person I always was....
Oh, and Happy Birthday!

Posted by: rickismomr | Jun 23, 2010 2:28:53 PM

welcome to the ranks of mortal philosophers. don't dwell on the past, we have no use for indestructible supermen. refua shelaima. happy birthday. please continue to share your thoughts in the public square and know that it's appreciated.

Posted by: jonathan becker | Jun 23, 2010 2:45:57 PM

Happy Birthday and refuah shleima David!

:-) to rickismomr - it's an amazing thing that happens to us as we get older (a gift from God!) When my mom was my age (the age I am now, that is), I thought of her as ancient! Now she's REALLY ancient and I'm a few years away from middle age (which is no longer 40 because, as my husband recently pointed out, if we should live to 120 then 60 is middle age) :-)

David - I pray that God grant you a long and healthy life.

Posted by: Tehillah | Jun 23, 2010 2:58:34 PM

Very well stated ... as I bumble around, taking note of life and trying to capture my experiences in words, I'm often struck that what I have to say has already been said -- generally better. We are all egocentric -- such is life. But I think what makes us human is knowing that we all think the world revolves around our little lives, but still finding warmth and meaning in the humanity of most of our fellow travelers ... btw, happy birthday. I was 49 once!

Posted by: Ron | Jun 23, 2010 3:08:29 PM

Having gone through a 14 month long job search I can fall back on my family, who for some reason still like me, and I am glad for all of them!

Posted by: Aharon | Jun 23, 2010 3:49:22 PM

Happy Birthday to you!

I enjoy reading your blog since some time now. So I use this opportunity to say "Thank you". I know, you're a giver...

May I suggest that the old yeller dog so far survived because it is either not moving or moving only slow? It is easy to avoid. All the wild animals dying on the street are to hasty. The moral of the story is to slow down a bit - if you have no learned it by the age of 49. ;-)

All the best,
Kurt.

Posted by: Kurt Westphal | Jun 23, 2010 6:00:29 PM

Many Happy Returns, David.

It's mine tomorrow, but compared with me you're a mere chickadee :)

Posted by: chairwoman | Jun 23, 2010 6:04:23 PM

By your description it might be a recognized breed called Cna'ani (Caananite).
As far as surviving goes, well I have no insights, I'm too tired, I'll just go get some shut-eye.

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Jun 23, 2010 7:48:52 PM

Happy Birthday David! You have many years left to continue to make an impact on the world! Wishing you a fast recovery.

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Jun 23, 2010 10:09:42 PM

A good chunk of years back, I walked into a lesson with the late Ed Treutel and remarked "Holy Cow! I'm turning 40 tomorrow!" Ed, who was 71 at the time simply smiled and said: "I'll trade you..."

Just before I turned 50, an acquaintance who was several years ahead of me remarked: "I'll tell you the same thing I tell everyone who's about to hit their 50's- 'Come on in, the water's fine'..."

So happy birthday David and best wishes for many more...

Mike Spengler

Posted by: Mike Spengler | Jun 23, 2010 10:10:16 PM

David: insert any requisite "tfus" as needed here.

I turned 49 early May. I think of it rather as "my 50th year," which seems to surprise and disappoint people. I have an ongoing battle with some atheist peers on the Twitter line about how the self -- the lead role, the "I am" -- is unexplained by the material sciences, and that that guy-in-the-mirror (or, in my case, the goy-in-the-mirror?) is a powerful piece of evidence that we are more than the sum of our atoms, which are themselves mostly made up (if modern theories bear out) of nothing but energy and nothing.

I seem to have a fluttery heart-valve, and a bad blood vessel at the back of my skull, where the spine meets the head. I have become rather thankful for these, as they remind me of mortality, that my script has a closing act, and that I am on the other side of intermission now.

Though my goal is to make 100, and blow by it like it is standing still, there are (for me) no guarantees.

I have lost track of all the things I must be thankful for, just from day to day. But as long as "I am," I'll give it a go every day. Thanks, G-d. For, you know, cellular mitosis. For starters.

Happy birthday, friend. I am glad to have met another whose eyes are still open, from time to time, to the wonder of it all.

I tell my wife, "we live in parallel universes." She kind of understands, being a Trekkie and all. "I am glad yours and mine are so close." She kind of understands.

All the same, I am happy when your universe and mine intersect as well. My best to yours over there, especially Zahava, who has to live next to you! ;o/

Ensign Ricky

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 23, 2010 10:26:18 PM

Did you know that 49 is the square of seven, a number considered by many to be lucky?

Of course you did.

Rabbi Tarfon once said that the man who lives to be sheva shevuot shanim is especially blessed. (OK, I made that up.) But you are, indeed, especially blessed, despite what your ribs might be telling you. May you live to 120 plus a day - ad meah v'esrim v'yom - so as not (G-d forbid) to croak on your birthday. (And may I be there to sing "Happy Birthday" to you then. Heh.)

Posted by: Elisson | Jun 23, 2010 11:00:15 PM

A very happy birthday to you.
They say that 50 is the new 40, so just think in another year you will be 10 years younger. : )

I turn 47 tomorrow and it is all good.

Lisa

Posted by: Lisa | Jun 24, 2010 3:58:00 AM

Happy Birthday, little brother! :)

Posted by: val | Jun 24, 2010 5:11:34 AM

Don't angst too much. You belong to the real-life equivalent of the Order of the Phoenix, which is the house of Israel; you belong, as an individual, to Him who calls the stars by their names, and so - like all the others He has summoned into existence - you are known, and loved, by name, forever. What is it He says in Isaiah? - "I have called you by name, you are mine". I think, I believe, that He calls each of his creatures. Some refuse to listen. Some answer.

I remember a young boy who died at just 17, after a two-year struggle with brain cancer. He was neither wealthy nor powerful nor important as the world counts it; but he had heard that voice calling his name, for the very last thing he ever said on earth, before he died, was simply 'Alleluia'. What more could any human being achieve?

Posted by: Sylvia | Jun 24, 2010 10:42:44 AM

I couldn't possibly compete with all these inspired and inspiring comments, so I'll just wish you a simple "happy birthday!" Thank you for taking the effort to share your world with others -- it puts you in the playbill of more people than you might imagine...

Posted by: Alisha | Jun 24, 2010 11:20:55 PM

Happy birthday David!

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jun 24, 2010 11:49:50 PM

Happy Birthday from a woman who's still having fun at 61. Enjoy!

Posted by: Shira Salamone | Jun 25, 2010 2:12:48 AM

Happy birthday, buddy!

I got one coming next week, #60. I'm hoping we get to keep having these conversations for years to come.

MC

Posted by: mostly cajun | Jun 25, 2010 3:48:10 AM

I think every year I forget that you and I have the same birthday, even if you are a year or two older (okay, 4 years)! Mazal tov, happy birthday, may we both be making attempts to "chase cars" עד 120!

Posted by: Alissa | Jun 28, 2010 2:21:02 AM

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