October 20, 2006

Fun Games to Play with your Dog

I grew up in Connecticut and loved wandering around the snowy forests with my dog, Ashley (yes, that's her in the picture). She was my biggest fan and would follow me anywhere. And she was also a complete sucker.

At the age of 9, I had already whet my appetite for the power that comes from manipulating others' emotions. One of my favorite wintertime games was to go deep into the woods with my dog, stagger, fall into a snow bank and play dead. Ashley would quietly sit by me for a few moments, then anxiously nuzzle me. No response. Her nuzzling would become more frantic and small whimpers eventually rise. But nothing could revive me. Ashley would proceed to get truly upset and frantically dash about moaning trying to think up some solution to the Dead Master dilemma. When I could no longer stand the bite of the enveloping snowbank, I'd leap up and surprise her with my unanticipated vivacity. At this point she was mostly confused but ecstatic, nonetheless, to see me on my feet.

I pulled this prank on her countless times. Eventually, poor Ashley developed a tolerance to it and the amount of time I had to lie still in the snow lengthened until the game was no longer worth playing. But it was vital proof to me at an early age that someone would mourn if I died. As manipulative and gratuitous as the game was, it shaped the way I thought about life and death and placated many of my early fears about my life's impact.

At 27, I constantly think about how the world would or wouldn't be affected if I died. How many people would honestly be shaken? Would some simply be quietly relieved? Who would be at the burial? Would they cry or had they just come for the funeral potatoes? But I also ask these same questions about the people around me. How will their death affect me? Impact is an important consideration in my life.

My religion takes care of the essential questions about the afterlife, so I'm not anxious about my fate, just my reverberations. It must be similar to how a composer feels when he debuts a symphony in a concert hall. The piece winds on and on, through various movements and tempos but the audience doesn't even dare cough until the final chord has stilled in the hall. Then in the silence the conductor turns to face the audience and is greeted by...raucous applause? Deafening silence? A standing ovation? A scattering of clapping that dies when he dismounts his pedestal? For most people, there is no way to gauge your lasting effect on the world until you've passed on. Everything you do builds up until that final moment and you've got to hope you didn't mess up some chord in the last phrase to sour everyone's appreciation of your work.

And yes, I wonder about these things because I'm narcissistic. But tell me you aren't. Tell me you could care less whether your death is greeted with silence or applause. I've been thinking about this a lot lately because of the news story I posted a few weeks ago about the man who died and nobody even noticed for 4 years. I really don't want to be that guy.

Which is why the game I played in the snow with Ashley was so totally satisfying. You can't in good faith feign death to your friends and family just to gauge their reaction. But I'm not above animal testing so Ashley gave me some hope that I would be clapped for. Or at least nuzzled.


bethany said...

HAHAHAHA! i used to play that exact game with caroline when she was little only i would fall dead in the warm house and lay still for ages and she would cry and try and push me and talk to me (without much sucess as she was only 2 and didnt understand the quality show she witnessed). poor girl finally stopped caring that i kept dying. ah, good times. what is wrong with us? i guess it runs in the family.

Anonymous said...

All I can say, is: "Don't blame it on your mother." You little weirdos.

A relative said...

Did you really have to post the photo of Ashley on the very day she actually died? I mean, really! Use this photo instead, puleeeze! BTW, we totally believe animals live on and are resurrected just as we are, so we can therefore be sanguine about talking about them posthumously without breaking up into tearful blobs. I look forward to running my hands through her silky fur again. What a sweetie she was/is!

Samantha said...

That's pretty adorable. I think I tried similar things with my dog but I couldn't stand how cute he was for that long so I always gave up. B/c THAT is mean! Mean! And adorable!

I don't like when people post comments as "anonymous." It's creepy to me.

And I think it goes without saying that people would be very sad if you died!

annie said...

Ashey was the best doggie a girl could ever want. She looked like a cute black bunny rabbit whenever she would go bouncing through the snow. And I think she will totally forgive you for your practial jokes!
To pay her tribute, I remember her following me to a friend's house and then waiting on the back porch for two days to make sure I came home safely!
Moment of silence, please.

annie said...

Oh yeah, I played that game on Caroline too. Now THAT is disturbing.

Sarah said...

Mom, you are the little weirdo. What's up with the anonymous insults from my darling angel mother? Still stinging from that little incident when I was 15 and left you to rot with your broken ankle?

I'm glad to know that Bethany and Annie were both doing the same thing as me. It's refreshing when other people don't bother pretending they are saints. The act gets old. Everyone's got dirt.

mai-linh: spiritual flower said...

Great post, I loved it. And cute dog. :) By the way, have you tried playing this game with Penny? I know that she would mourn/nuzzle you! Here are some inspirational words that I really like: http://www.charactercounts.org/knxwk326.htm#4

You can even download them as a pdf with a pretty cloud background.

Lisa M. said...

Ah. Cute dog. WHERE in CT? GOodness. I lived in Fairfield County (Redding) for yonks, in college.

What a game.

J-Rod said...

If you promise there will be funeral potatoes - I'll be there.

Karen said...

sarah, great great great post. i love the symphonic analogy.

Sarah said...

Is this Karen of S.F.? I'm so glad you commented! Keep 'em coming :)

Lisa - it was New Canaan. And it ruined me for living anywhere else in the country. Talk about paradise!

And J-Rod, there will be absolutely NO funeral potatoes at my service. I'm requesting that all the food be arranged to look like me. Maybe a huge mound of rice for the shape of the body, spaghetti for my hair, green olives for the eyes, shoes made of chocolate, clothing out of different kinds of yummy sea weed - and so forth. But I really don't think any part of my body could be duplicated by mushy pototoes.

Doug said...

What makes you think Ashley's dead? I think she's just getting revenge.

Lisa M. said...

Yup. I went to church in New Cannon.


And yes, it is Paradise.

Anonymous said...

I'll be there for the funeral jello. It's not an LDS event without it! Y'all are sick, sad puppies. That's why I love y'all so much. It's just like home.