Recently I was teaching a lesson on the Prologue of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to a room full of ninth graders with rapidly growing spring fever. The language is tough, and I find that students do not fully engage with the story until Act III when the bodies start to drop, and they see that the play is, in fact, a tragedy. This time, however, a particular line really lit them up. A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life. HEY, they shouted in protest! Thanks for the spoiler! Now that we know they die at the end, what’s the point of reading this play??!!?
Well, normally I would agree that spoilers are bad. I tell my students that I watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead on Amazon the next day, so they better not ruin it for me. I caution them about revealing the major deaths in Avengers: End Game before I’ve had the chance to see it. I might even threaten to fail them for the YEAR if they do not follow a strict code of honor about spoilers. I think they realize that I’m kidding about that one….maybe.
I explain to them – passionately – how Shakespeare reveals the young lovers’ deaths not to spoil the play for the audience, but to make the story even better. The point of the story is not to find out that they die at the end. The point is what knowing that from the very beginning makes us feel about the characters. When we see Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love at first sight, we feel their hormone-driven joy, while our hearts also break for the tragedy we know is coming. When Juliet’s Nurse scoops her up and gleefully talks about seeing her married one day, we feel warmed by the display of pure motherly love and chilled by the realization that this is one of the last moments she will hold the girl she loves as her own.
It’s good stuff. The highs are elevated by the existence of the lows. I believe that, but it’s a bit harder to put into practice in real life than it is in class discussions about Romeo and Juliet.
Today is the one year anniversary of the death of my dog Maddy. She was one of the good ones, maybe the sweetest, smartest, most intuitive little dog I’ve ever known. Although she was old, her death was sudden and peaceful. I am grateful that I was with her when she passed. I believe that I was her favorite human, and I know it brought her comfort in her final moments that I was there to tell her she was a good girl.
The weeks that followed were hard, but my grief was tempered by the fact that her “brother” Bo was still here and needed our attention. We had worried for years that he would not be able to cope with life as a single dog. We talked about how we might have to put him down if he couldn’t recover from the loss of his partner in life.
But dogs are more adaptable than we realize, and he did adapt. In fact, he is one happy little dude. He loves snacks, cuddles and walks. In that order. He is curious and silly and devoted to his people. If he misses Maddy, he keeps it in proper perspective and just loves his life. The momentary disappointments in his little world are just that – momentary disappoints – then he is right back to living in the moment.
I wish I could be more like that. In the past year, I have enjoyed my beagle boy more than ever, carrying on and on about his funny expressions and ways. But I have also struggled with the knowledge that this time with him is finite and no amount of ruminating OR resisting is going to change that. We have all the conversations about how he might get sick or how will we know it’s time to let him go. It’s living in the future instead of living in the now.
SPOILER ALERT: Bo is going to die. Beagle life expectancy is 12-15 years. Bo is 13 years old. Fact. But how do I want to spend the remaining time with my little buddy? Gnashing my teeth about what might happen in the future? I already know how the story ends, but is that worthy of my focus? Is that the point?
No. I don’t want uncertainty about what’s going to happen steal my joy. I don’t want to rail against the tribulations of life so hard that I miss the good times. I want to embrace the highs AND the lows because one cannot truly exist without the other.
It’s all good stuff. It’s life. It took William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights of all time, and Bo, a chocolate beagle with a zest for life, to teach me this lesson.
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