What is your invisible dog?
You might be asking, “What do you mean my invisible dog?”
I’ll tell you a story.
When I was growing up in Illinois, we had an amusement park not far from my house. I used to have a summer pass. In the 1980s when I was a girl from age 10 to 13 or so, my parents used to drop off me and a friend at the park and we spent the day wandering around. We didn’t have cell phones. We had quarters that we used to call from a pay phone when we wanted to go home.
One night my dad came to pick me up. It was always a little miserable for whatever friend was with me when he came because he drove a Camaro. Camaros are many things. They are powerful. They are fast. They are not made for anyone to ride in the back seat. It’s an exercise in folding your body.
At the park, I saw people walking invisible dogs: empty harnesses with a stiff leash. They held the leashes out in front of them as if an invisible dog was pulling them along.
It was the most amazing thing I had seen. It was funny. It was attention getting. I loved dogs! This one was invisible! And you could walk it in the park! What could be better?
I told my dad all about the invisible dog and how cool they were. I expressed how much I wanted one.
I couldn’t wait for my life to change with the fame and fun of the invisible dog.
My dad was a smart man. So smart that he invented medical devices and toys and got patents for them. He made good money in the 1980s, which he spent on shiny things like new Camaros and gold necklaces.
How could he refuse his beautiful blond daughter? Of course, he said to me, “No. That is stupid.”
I sulked. He didn’t notice. I went on with my 11-year-old life.
At some point, my mom picked me up from a day at the amusement park. She had no problem buying junk so she got me the invisible dog on our way out. I brought it home.
It was really stupid. My dad was right.
It sat in the basement for a few years and then my dad threw it away.
We chase things that seem to offer what we want. These new clothes will make us feel professional and in control, or sexy and young. Can fabric give you confidence?
If we buy this toy for our kid, we’ll be good parents and our kids will turn out smart.
We see shiny cars in the commercials: people going fast on empty, curving roads, having adventures. This new car will give us a sense of freedom! Except we only drive it back and forth in traffic to work.
We want the feeling of being famous, loved, fancy and successful.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes.
All the hard work of humans is for the mouth, but the appetite is never full. It’s better to enjoy what’s at hand than to have an insatiable appetite. This too is pointless, just wind chasing.
Sweet is the light, and it’s pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.
Even those who live many years should take pleasure in them all. But they should be mindful that there will also be many dark days. Everything that happens is pointless.
Ecclesiastes 6:7,9; 11:7-8 Common English Bible (CEB)
Research shows that old people are happier than younger people (article). How can that be possible? Our bodies grow frail, our minds fade and we have fewer friends because they’ve died.
One theory is that older people know how to enjoy the present.
This summer I got to spend the last three days of my dad’s life with him. He was there for my first days and I’m grateful I got to be there for his last ones.
During those last three days, he gave us a single smile. One smile. I remember that smile.
During those last three days, when I squeezed his hand, he squeezed mine back. A soft squeeze. I remember the feeling of his hand in mine, day by day growing cooler, as his heartbeat grew fainter.
During those last three days, I sang songs to him. I sang the songs from his own childhood in the 1930s and I sang the songs he sang to me during my childhood in the 1970s. I remember those songs.
What is your invisible dog?
I’m here to tell you that this is your day at the amusement park. Enjoy the rides. Feel the sun. Laugh with your friends. Taste the food in all its goodness: salty or sweet.
When you see an invisible dog, let it go. You don’t need it.
You already have what you need.
Give a smile.
Squeeze someone’s hand.
Sing your song.