Groceries and Ambitions (or: Why Dogs Have Got It Good)

My friend took me grocery shopping last night. He’s got a tiny little beat-up convertible that he had just gotten back from the shop, it having been out of commission for a couple of months due to repairs, and as we started driving, he said, “Should we put the top down? Let’s put the top down.”

This was at around 11:00 at night, which frankly is the perfect time to go grocery shopping. Not only are there significantly less people shopping at that time, which means not having to weave through the maze of carts, but it also means that you get to drive in the dark. I don’t know what it is about night driving, but it’s awesome. I think it’s that combination of street lights and car lights against the black sky that’s just so beautiful to me — I love nature, but I also love city lights.

And the open roof made the experience that much more enjoyable. As we drove along, I was struck by this feeling of contentment. I can totally see why dogs love sticking their head out the window — if it’s a nice day, that breeze feels so good.

Normally, though, I think I’d be so distracted by the events of everyday life to really enjoy it — too many appointments and checklists to attend to.

This is one of those weird moments where I’m deeply envious of dogs. Dogs will stick their head out the window, and think of nothing else but hanging their tongue out to catch the wind. No worries, no planning for the future, just sheer excitement as the wind rushes past you. I want to be able to do that.

 See, dogs know how to sit in a moment and enjoy life as it comes, because they don’t have responsibilities. Humans, on the other hand, constantly allow their responsibilities to get in the way. That is a distinctly human quality: we’re always stressing about making deadlines or worrying about an interaction that we had the other day. Humans dwell.

But that’s not always a bad thing. Sure, we load our plates up with responsibility, but the reason we do that is because we have ambition — another distinctly human quality. If I decide that I want to write a book, and really set myself to the task, the prospect of getting published will motivate me to trudge my way through the work. We dwell on dreams, and if we dwell enough, and care enough, at some point this will stir us into action. This is a fantastic thing.

But there’s got to be a way to dwell and notice our surroundings at the same time. There’s got to be a way to tie the pursuit of our dreams in with the enjoyment and contentment of the here and now. Being present takes conscious effort, but I think it’s an important effort to take. Because honestly, dreams are great, but what would life be like if we didn’t slow down for just one minute and breathe in the air, and think, Damn, today’s a nice day?

I think I tend to dream more than I allow myself to be present. Ironically, sometimes the way I endeavour to remedy this is by turning it into an ambition — I’ll make checklists to remind myself to ingest my surroundings — preparation to step out of the dream and remember what it’s like to be alive. Here’s my current checklist: Get up early so I won’t have to rush. Really look at the things I see on the street as I walk to work. Realize the things that make me smile, as I experience them — not later. Remember to ask my friends what’s going on in their lives. And make friends with more people who own convertibles.

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