Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On Regret and Time

James Lileks, the best writer on the web, or one of the very, very best, writes this today:

Came back from errands to an empty house. Jasper was sitting on the sofa, as usual for the afternoon. In the mornings he’s all over the house, but often hides downstairs between the sofa and the wall; it’s his den. At noon he comes up and looks at us with bright expectant eyes, then follows me outside for my post-lunch nip on a small cigarillo. When he’s decided there’s nothing more in the way of food to be had, he retreats to the sofa. When I came home he didn’t come to greet me; he usually doesn’t. I come, I go; he’s used to it. He was sitting on the sofa with his head between his legs, staring straight ahead as if lost in thought or bottomless existential despair. Of course, that’s projection; he was in idle. Threat assessment and food-probability both came up as null, so why stir.

“Hey,” I said. “How’s it going.”

He turned and looked at me, then turned away and stared straight ahead again. It meant nothing, but it just seemed sad. The worst thing we could learn about dogs would be to know they suffered regret. Or understood the idea of “tomorrow.”

What if they don't understand time? What if, every time you go to the store they fear you'll never return--like a two year old fears that?

I think that one of the nicest things about growing up is learning proportional risk. There is a difference between one hour and one week. There is a difference between one year and forever.

It's comforting to know which is which. Unfortunately, I don't think dogs know the difference. Maybe that is why Jame's dog is sad.

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