I write in the wake a tragedy. One person after another has something to say or write about it, and I can certainly do the same.
I’m good at offering articulate snap judgement opinions, and may even have the ability to get a visceral reaction from someone. Perhaps I can even inspire them to act on that visceral feeling.
This is why I am glad, so glad, that my friend Megan has a Basset hound.
I am in the backseat of a car as I write this, using a wi-fi hotspot. Megan’s Basset hound, Samson, is next to me. His ears are swinging back and forth like pendulums.
Occasionally he opens his mouth and pants. A thread of drool hits the backseat. Sometimes some of this drool ends up on the leg of my jeans.
I reach over and pat his head. I massage the back of his neck, and he leans his head back. This is his way of telling me that he wants me to scratch him underneath his chin.
Were I writing this at a table, I would feel his paw tapping against my shin. I would look down, and see him looking at me, his eyes hooded by those brows that dogs use to express emotions. In this case, the emotion would be a mixture of hurt and indignance, mixed with the expectation that I stop everything and get on with the business of massaging his neck and scratching his chin.
Samson does not bark much. Yes, when he does bark, he is loud, and being a hound, he is capable of howling in a Baskerville kind of way. Nonetheless, most of the time, he is quiet, sitting or lying down, taking in the world and soliciting nearby people for the occasional treat or, yes, the occasional neck rub and chin scratch.
So why is this so important for me right now? For two reasons.
The first is that with his constant solicitation for neck rubs and chin scratches, Samson reminds me that if I’m going to write about a politically charged issue, it is best to do so with a relaxed, clear head.
And this, in turn, reminds of something even more vital. We are in an age in which anyone can get talk or write, and get their stuff out to a potentially huge audience. Given that, it is so important, so very important, before acting on feelings and thoughts, to remember the importance of reading and listening to the feelings and thoughts of others with that clear, relaxed head.
Right now, I have a number of things I could write, and chances are, I’d regret posting them a few minutes later. This means that there is a chance, however remote, that my words could inspire a member of my vast readership (up to double digits at least) to do something that they might regret.
I would have difficulty living with myself if I inspired such a thing.
This is not to say that I will shy away from writing about things that affect me in a visceral way. All it means is that before I do this, I would prefer to calm down, and maybe get an idea of what thoughts other people--many of them far smarter, wiser, and more intelligent than I am--have on this matter. And there is nothing better to remind myself of this than to give Samson a neck rub or a chin scratch.
For this insight into the importance of seeking the better angels of my nature, I owe Samson a deep debt of gratitude.