We have a dog. He's a good dog. A calm dog. His name is Jackson. He is almost 100% blind and deaf. He can walk around, and can smell, but he has little idea of the world going on around him. We joke that he is a biological roomba, mindlessly moving and bumping into objects to gain information on his surroundings. Loud noises and petting him only seem to shock him, so we tend to avoid that for his sake. He has good days where he seems more coherent and active, and despite not knowing what's around him, he goes exploring. He can still feel, so I like to believe it's the change in temperature or airflow that he's after. He likes to sit by my feet while I work at the kitchen table. Even so, he can't really interact with us or the other dogs. He's like a truck driving on an open highway, while the cars move around him to pass. Jackson is a lone soul traveling in his lane, unattached to others. He also has bad days where he lays on the stairs all day and doesn't even notice everyone stepping over him to go up and down them.
This brings me to a question: What does it mean to exist and how much can you enjoy life if you've lost almost all major connections to it? It's heartbreaking in a way. The poor little dog never chose his eyes and ears to fail him. It was time that did him in. It was time that broke down his body, and it was time that locked him in his head. I've always asked myself, would I rather lose my hearing or my sight? Both have tragic implications to your quality of life. A sensory organ failing changes who you are. To lose two seems almost insurmountable. We humans have found ways around that, and there is even more hope for us as technology and healthcare advance. But it is too late for Jackson. He does not live in 2122, he lives in 2022 where dogs don't have eye transplants. It's more ethical to cope with the loss of a beloved pet than to try and drag their life out for years. This is the real implications of this philosophical question. When do you decide to put down your pet? The question is one that pet owners face, Jackson just happens to be a strange conundrum that heightens things.
Over the past few days, I've grown to understand Jackson's condition and have glimpses into his state of mind. I can tell he's lonely, but he's learned to live with it. Sometimes he barks, usually at night while we're all sleeping, and I've realized it's because he's crying out to see if the world is still there. We've tried try taking him outside, but all he really wants is a touch to know the world still exist. He is living in Plato's cave. He only remembers things from what he used to see, so it's likely I only exist as a jumbled construct of "human" in his mind. My buddy Jackson may be a lost soul, but he has a lesson for us all to learn.
Just as we pulled wolves out of "the wild" and domesticated them into dogs, we've also created a climate controlled life for ourselves. By chasing creature comforts, we've too been domesticated and grown accustom to a pampered lifestyle. We have created an artificial extension to life that is only seen by us and those creatures we chose to extend it to. We lift up our chosen few to the glorious fantasy we have made for ourselves, fearing death and fighting for its clutches to never come for us again. We have tried to tame and pacify the wolf at the door.
It's very easy in the modern world to artificially cocoon yourself in the fabric of your desired reality. We seek information that validates our opinions, we interact mainly with people that have shared beliefs, and we avoid other cultures and challenging ideas. While it's easy to see this at first as blissful ignorance, you are destroying your natural capacity to be skeptical, to explore, to change. You are locking yourself into a self-chosen isolation chamber, trying to avoid the difficulties of life and replace them with convenient truths. In essence, you make yourself both blind and deaf. Jackson does not have a choice in the matter, but we do. We can turn away from artificial comforts and challenge our beliefs. To be vulnerable yet strong by inviting in adversity and championing knowledge. A muscle is built by breaking it down so it can grow back stronger. The brain and spirit must be built this way too.
Jackson may not be long for this world, but he remains steadfast. Though he is my daily memento mori, he is also a symbol that life can break in a way that kills you while you continue to live, but only if you let it.
Edit: I hate him. He wakes me up every morning at 5 A.M. by barking constantly and has to be carried outside to pee. He is my mortal enemy and doesn't even know I exist.