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The Opie Path

I BOUGHT OPIE, the little 17-pound rescue mutt I love beyond all reason, a new squeaky ducky to play with. Opie, who at first was afraid of it and thought it was alive, took it out in the grass and killed it by chewing its squeaky to death in a sustained, 15-minute effort.

He flopped onto his back and furiously squirmed around —a behavior we call the “worm”—and, using his front paws, threw the ducky in the air and caught it in his mouth, shaking it, shaking it, shaking it.

This went on for maybe 90 seconds, and I was transfixed.

This, I thought, is perfect happiness, absolute joy in simply being alive and full of so much Opieness that it just couldn’t be contained.

He was totally in the moment, not worrying about the past or thinking about the future. Completely, innocently, joyously, happy.

And I thought, I’ll never feel that way, it’s not possible for me to be that innocent and blissful and overflowing with life, with no intrusive thoughts or random mental junk sullying the experience.

Reflecting on it now that he’s back to his normal Opie—barking at the kitty, trying to eat the inedible, sniffing dog butts—I’ve come to this realization: I’m 68 and Opie’s three, but there’s so much he can teach me, so much I can learn if I just follow the Opie Path. Opie’s always alive to the moment, always taking the world as it comes: unfiltered, simple, immediate, as it is, whatever it is.

For Opie, every walk is the best walk, and every run in the woods is the best run in the woods and every new squeaky toy is the best squeaky toy.

His love is total, immediate, unquestioning, fierce in its loyalty and beauty.

When I return from somewhere, even if I’ve only been gone for five minutes, Opie greets me with an intensity and excitement that is miraculous to behold.

Since he’s so tiny, the only way he can do this properly is by jumping on the back of the couch and then launching a kissing (you might call it “licking,” but I don’t) assault on my face, centered on my nose (which we won’t comment on) with passionate intensity while pressing his little body against my face. This inevitably pushes me down to the seat of the coach. At that point, he flips over and I put my hand under his back—which he loves—and he does the now-elevated worm, snarling and pawing the air and making me improbably happy to be part of it.

I know, I know, this is nothing unusual, just normal dog stuff. But I’ve never stopped to really consider this essence of dogginess before. Perhaps because they are so omnipresent in our lives, we don’t stop to marvel at these two-species minuets of love. And it made me realize that I don’t need to turn to a church or guru or god or belief system to find my way through the murkiness that is my life, made more difficult by the crazy monkey that is my brain, by the relentless and often crippling thoughts that came with the hand I was dealt at birth. All I have to do is try to be more like Opie, to live in the now, to savor every moment left to me, to make every one of my walks the best walk ever, to dump all the trash and baggage and just be like a tiny little dog with a skin condition and a heart and soul big enough to swallow the earth.

We seek wisdom everywhere and it is at our feet, teaching without even knowing it, if only we will listen, closely and carefully.

I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if I did, I would pray to go wherever dogs go, because that would be the true paradise, awash with love and saliva, acceptance, and as many squeaky duckies as anyone could ever want.

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Bob Quarteroni of Swoyersville, Penn., has been published in the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Saturday Evening Post and many others.

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