Before there was glorious Tim, there was sweet Jake. Jake wasn’t as big as Tim or as goofy, but he persevered- training with me for marathons, fighting off two pit bulls and then two German shepherds, even surviving the attack of the baby carrots (he was afraid of them as all self-respecting dogs should be). Even though he was 70 pounds or so, Jake would still try to sit on my lap the way he did as a puppy. Jake was eighteen when he died–pretty old for a dog. And in the last couple of years, he showed his age, not being able to see or hear very well, pretty frail when walking, and, man, could that dog pee. Every time you turned around, he was taking a leak. Outside, sure, but also in the kitchen, on his bed (or more often on Tim’s bed because even though he was old, he wasn’t stupid)-wherever the urge hit, Jake would lift his leg and let ‘er loose. And sometimes his aim wasn’t that great and inevitably he peed on himself. So we did our best to clean him up, but it was impossible to completely conquer the smell in his fur. But it didn’t matter how badly he smelt, it was impossible not to love him. And the older he got, and the frailer, and even the smellier, I actually loved him more. Because all of those things indicated how limited our time together would be and how essential his smelly little face was to my happiness.
There’s a book by a tremendous Canadian author (David Adams Richards) called The Lost Highway. It’s about a lot of things, but in particular, like all of his novels, it is about love and the freedom one finds when one devotes oneself to another. The main character, Alex Chapman, spends most of his life, trying to free himself from his dependence on others. He thinks that only if he is self-sufficient can he be secure and thus happy. Having been hurt and betrayed by those he has trusted, Alex determines that he cannot trust anyone, and, instead, he seeks to exert power over them. Taking this direction down the lost highway leads Alex ultimately to enslavement and illusion. By the end of the novel, having been implicated in the murder of one man, Alex is almost able to persuade himself that the way out of his dilemma is to kill the young daughter of the woman he loves. Given that his goal throughout the novel is to win Minnie’s love, it seems unlikely that this plan will work. As Alex says in a moment of self-recognition, this probably isn’t going to help his resume.
Alex is afraid of being hurt. The limitations of the natural order and of human nature are all such that they seem to be too risky to give oneself over to. But Alex has forgotten that it was only in those few moments of his life that he was fully dependant on the love of another that he was truly free and happy. And this happiness is dependant on the very particularity and finitude that he, in his stoicism, seeks to overcome.
As a teenager, Alex knows this is true. For instance, like many lovelorn youth, Alex used to stand outside Minnie’s house hoping to see her. He would “trudge up the Minnie’s roadway in the winter…and stand by the gate, looking in at those old yellow curtains hanging across blank, dirty windows in the small, cold house. He would stand in the cold almost all day long. It was as if that sad little house-filled with old and vagrant furniture, and cases of empty wine bottles stacked in the small, cold porch, with snow swishing and swashing over the shed roof-was a place of mystery and worship”(27). In this moment, Alex is utterly dependant on Minnie, but all the elements of her life, her small house, even her “crooked little teeth,” “freed him”(28). The very limits that define Minnie and which one might think would reduce his happiness are actually the source of his joy. If her teeth had been straight, if her face had been less Irish, he wouldn’t love her the way that he does. In this, that which is eternal (love, because even now that Jake is gone I continue to love him and, of course, always will), is reconciled to that which is altogether and necessarily particular. And two things that seem as though they should be opposed, are shown to be essential to the other.
Dante says something about this in The Divine Comedy: http://greatdiscourses.com/courses/general/2016/09/dante-divine-comedy
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