The Meaning of Life



Jer of various places asks,

What is the meaning of life?

When I was growing up, we lived way out in the country. It was a convenient spot for people to drop off unwanted pets, so that was how we got all our pets who weren’t born on the premises.

One of these was a large Golden Retriever named John Denver — JD to company. He was about six months old when we got him. He was a moody dog — I think he’d suffered some early trauma — and I was a serious and solitary child, so we got along well.

When he was about two years old, JD learned to speak. He was shy (ref probable trauma mentioned earlier) and would only speak to me, my sister, and one of my brothers, which is why you’ve never heard of him. It didn’t change him as much as you might expect. Even though he was more thoughtful and articulate than most of my classmates, he still liked to roll in anything smelly, for instance. But he and I had some nice chats while walking in the woods.

When I was fifteen — a typical age to wonder about such things — I happened to ask JD what gave his life meaning. It was clear that he’d given the matter some thought, because after only a moment, he began to answer at length. He had a theory about the cosmic importance of things being in their right places, and being brought to those who needed them, and of his role in making that happen. There was some cosmological aspect of this that he started to explain, but, “Hold up,” said I. “You’re aware, right, that your breed of dog is called ‘retriever’?”

He gave me a squinty-eyed look. “What’s your point?”

“Could it be that you’ve used your powers of reason to ennoble something you just like to do because you were bred for it?”

Dog looked at boy. Boy looked at dog. There was a longish pause. “Shut up and just throw the damn stick,” JD said.