In Buddhist practice, one is urged to consider how to live well by reflecting on one’s death.
When I was a young mother I watched a woman at the laundromat put her family’s socks in a mesh bag that she threw in the washer. “So none of them get eaten by the machine,” she informed me. I couldn’t imagine such a thing. It seemed extravagant, even lazy. Why didn’t she just look in the machines?
For all of my adult working life I wore pantyhose. I washed them in the sink and threw them over the shower rod to dry. They were (and are!) the ugliest piece of unworn clothing in existence, made more so by scary movies where criminals pull pantyhose over their heads to disguise themselves when they rape, kill or mug their victims.
Now that I no longer dress for business all my socks are bright cotton, primary colors. Whenever I do the laundry I love hanging wet socks on the foldable clothes rack in my bedroom. If I were an artist I’d paint the explosion of color hanging to dry. I diligently scour the washing machine in my building’s laundry room as I cannot afford to let even one errant sock get trapped and forgotten. This has worked for many years, sparing me the anguish of making decisions about left behind socks.
Until Henry came to me.
A few months into our life together, seven year old Henry and I were out for a walk. I bent over to scoop up his morning duty and stared down into a roll of turquoise cotton. Putting two and two together, I rushed home to inspect the bottom rung of the clothes dryer. One missing turquoise sock.
Oh Henry. This sixteen pound West Highland Terrier, without the advantage of a full set of teeth, supplements his dog food with cardboard boxes, cotton garments and paper. He’s sneaky but sometimes he brazenly waits at the printer for paper to eject and tries to gobble it up before I pry it from his clamped jaws. The other day, I looked over from my morning awakening and noticed the bottom corner of the cotton drapes had been Henry’s midnight snack.
You may wonder if Henry gets sick. Yes, he sometimes lays around more than usual. So far a bulging stomach seems to be the only side effect.
I panic though. I spray vinegar to make the reachable distasteful. But the unpredictability of his foraging renders me useless to keep him from harm. I’m sure his suicide is imminent.
And so, reflecting on his death, I sing to my sentient canid– my version of the Buddhist practice of living well.
(To the tune of Bruce Springsteen’s “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”)
Well dogs are quirky don’t you know. They eat stuff that we’d forgo. Sneaky eating’s got me worried. Oh Henry don’t you go.
Oh Henry! don’t you die, don’t go. Oh Henry! don’t you die, don’t go. Sneaky eating’s got me worried. Oh Henry don’t you go.
When I see your stomach ache, my heart starts to palpitate. Sneaky eating’s got me worried. Oh Henry don’t you go.
Paper, cardboard, pill bottle’os. Playbills, books and hanging clothes. Sneaky eating’s got me worried. Oh Henry! don’t you go.
Oh Henry! don’t you die, don’t go. Oh Henry! don’t you die, don’t go. Sneaky eating’s got me worried. Oh Henry! don’t you die.
I hope he sinks his teeth into the message.
Listen to Bruce: Oh Mary Don’t You Weep