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What Shiloh taught me about living in the now

If a treat were offered but not immediately given, he let me know. 

A longhaired dachshund in Germany watches a falling leaf.
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  • Barbara Cook Spencer

Shiloh – like Sam, Atticus, Luke, and Thunder, the four other Weimaraners that have graced my life – loved ice cream, and as with all my other dogs, he had his ice cream when we had ours, after dinner.

One day, I made the mistake of giving Shiloh his ice cream after lunch. Somehow I believed (did I really?) that there would be no fuss after dinner. Did I ima­gine he’d remember that he’d already had his favorite treat? After dinner, barking insistently and tugging vigorously on my left sleeve, Shiloh reminded me of my responsibility. 

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” I said a bit absent-mindedly to my husband, “if he’d remember that he’s already had his ice cream today?”

If he’d remember? It’s a distinctly creature characteristic to live perpetually in the present, in the now. It’s never been any use dreaming that my dogs would be able to substitute a past event for a present experience. Or that they would have understood anything good as something to be experienced in the future, or at any time but now.

A few years ago, I was riveted to a remarkable documentary called “My Life as a Turkey,” a “Nature” program on PBS in which Joe Hutto records his devoted parenting of 16 turkeys from the moment they hatched to their inevitable emergence as independent adults some nine months later. One of the most profound lessons he said he’d learned from this experience was how to live in the moment: “These turkeys had taught me,” he said, “not to betray the moment for some abstraction up ahead.” He said he felt that human beings seldom live in the moment, that they’re always relinquishing the present – the only reality – to think in terms of the future, or even the past. 

Now, he learned from the turkeys, is all there is. Pretty amazing.

And he’s right. We humans only live part of the day in the moment, denying the only reality that exists: the present. The rest of the time we either worry about or ponder the future, regret or miss the past. And how thought provoking to think of this as a betrayal. Creatures never waste one precious moment doing any of this! The squirrels, birds, chipmunks, raccoons, foxes – and turkeys – around our home wake up each morning with such innocent expectancy, ready to go forward, ready to experience what life will so naturally present to them. Clearly, they have no consciousness of time. 

Yet ignorance of time doesn’t rule out a very fine-tuned sense of timing, nor even prescience. Nor is this unawareness of time a kind of amnesia that precludes gratitude for the good already experienced. Creatures seem always to remember – in the now – those who have been good to them.

If we were to remove events from a time frame, both the memory and expectancy of good would become one, here and now, as Sam, Atticus, Luke, Thunder, and Shiloh so innocently, and even irreverently, reminded me.

Shiloh isn’t with us anymore, but I am still grateful for the way he honed my ability to focus on the moment, making me even more careful about what I offered him – and when I planned to make good on that offer. If a treat, a ride in the car, or a walk was mentioned, but wasn’t immediately forthcoming, he tugged with determination on my left sleeve to either pull me in what he felt was the right direction or to keep me from getting away. 

Not wanting to own only garments with missing or shredded left sleeves, I determined to do an even better job of adjusting myself to his perception of life lived in the now – and consciously adjust my perception so that I lived my own life more in the moment.

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