I was thinking about it while Pepper and I were sitting on the back patio in Saturday’s glory. She stretched out on the patio sofa, nibbling a Pottery Barn pillow, while I gently dissuaded her. My husband was cleaning the garage. One daughter was studying for exams while the other was at the mall shopping for a bikini.
“I worry about Memorial Day,” I told Pep. “I don’t know how to respond to that kind of sacrifice – the magnitude of it. When you multiply it across time and wars, it is overwhelming. I am not sufficiently grateful – not this weekend, not any day, not ever.”
I expected her to reassure me, as Pep tends to see the best in me. But today was different.
“Gratitude doesn’t seem to be a natural state of mind for you,” she remarked. “You complain a lot. When you’re not complaining, you’re worrying. And when you’re not complaining or worrying, you’re thinking about what you need to do next.”
Honestly, I was shocked by this assessment.
“Wow, Pepper,” I remarked. “How do you really feel?”
She hopped off the sofa and wound around my legs like a kitten, settling at my feet. “I feel happy to be alive!” she replied. “I rolled in fragrant excrement in the yard this morning. Later, I chewed on a delicious leather sandal you kindly left under the coffee table. The sun is shining, and I expect I’ll enjoy a generous helping of Purina Pro Plan Lamb and Rice before too long…”
The dog in the yard behind us started barking, and Pep took off like a rocket towards the fence, woofing her fiercest and most excited woof. That dog behind the fence really gets her motor going.
It occurred to me that taking pleasure in life is one small right response to Memorial Day.
* * *
I might open a book I’ve been hearing about – David Brooks’ The Road to Character, #8 this week on The New York Times Bestseller list (hardback nonfiction). The book has its own impressive website and TED talk, which is introduced as follows: “The central question of this book is how to not only do good, but be good. How to live a life of depth and meaning over success and achievement. One way to begin the journey is by asking yourself one simple, yet difficult, question, “Am I living for my résumé or my eulogy?”
The book has its fans and detractors, as one would expect. David Brooks is a high profile conservative Op-Ed columnist at the New York Times, also providing commentary on “PBS NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” In his abundant free time, he teaches at Yale. His third book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.
Yvonne Roberts, writing in the Guardian, slaughters The Road to Character, calling it “confused and contradictory.” Pico Iyer, writing in the Sunday New York Times a few weeks ago, felt distinctly aggravated by parts of the book, but in the final analysis grudgingly praised its merits and charms. Michael Gerson in the Washington Post considers it a radical work hiding in plain sight, obscured by Brooks’ “calm, fair and humane” voice. “Across the pages,” Gerson writes, “Brooks is a reliable guide and a pleasant companion.” The points he’s making are not always pleasant or moderate, though:
“Brooks’s selection of biographical examples is an exercise in cultural criticism. They are chosen to stand in contrast to currently ascendant forms of self-trust, self-love, self-expression, self-esteem and self-actualization. The “Big Self” is the problem. Humility – which Brooks defines as “the awareness that you are an underdog in the struggle against your own weakness” – is the beginning of any plausible solution.”
I’m liking the sound of this – and the patter of the rain outside – and the gentle sighs of the dog close by. It is going to be a good day, and I am so grateful.
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Photo credit, top photo: https://www.flickr.com/x/t/