The Pleasure of Aktis Eating (in the Shadow of Death)

For Erda and her friends, in memoriam

The way Aktis relished his dinner last night made me so unreasonably happy that this morning I want to share a little of my pleasure with you, if I can.

It may be that Billy Collins’ poem helped attune me to the present; even more, the sad news that dear friends have had to let go of their lovely old German shepherd. (I have yet to find a satisfactory way to say what we’re doing when we decide to end a friend’s life.) Whatever the reasons for this moment of grace, I was surprised—standing in the kitchen looking out at the light in the trees—by how much pleasure I was taking, listening to the exuberant medley of sounds coming from the next room, as Aktis ate his dinner.

There was the slurping, crunching sound of moistened kibble being gobbled. Soon after I hear him scooting the nearly empty ceramic dish with his nose, making it wobble on the mat; then I hear it klank against the stainless steel water dish; and finally I hear both bowls and the rubber mat they sit on bumping rhythmically into the wall as he licks to death the thoroughly empty food bowl. After enthusiastically lapping up some water, he turned his attention to the nearly empty tuna I had set down near his bowl. I listened as the tin can scraped noisily along the tile floor, then heard the sound of it wobbling, then heard it rolling on its side from the utility room into the hallway, and at this point I turned from gazing out the window to see the comic sight of my dear, nine-year-old, 95-pound German shepherd fast on its heels, chasing down a tiny tuna can. Laughing, I picked it up, before someone gets hurt. (He’s supposed to be recuperating from knocking his right shoulder a little out of whack.)  Looking up at me, he tilted his head in that endearing way he has—which you can see, here—as though he too saw the humor in it all.

This small scene gave me joy, but there’s still more joy to share. For before a feast, there is of course the exuberance of anticipation. Back home from a walk in the woods, which included some take-it-easy scent work, I said, “How about some dinner?” Needless to say, he was all ears. Before I filled his bowl, I put him on a down-stay in the hall, well away from the preparations. (He’s a big, obtrusive, nosey pest otherwise.) He always gets a little tuna with his food (I wrap his glucosamine caplet in it), but last night I gave him some extra tuna with dinner, a fact which—using his predator’s powers of discernment—he was able to notice even from a distance, even with my back blocking his view of the preparations. I could hear him crawling on  his belly, inching forward, and I knew without looking that he was drooling all over the floor in glad anticipation: eyes bright, ears pricked forward, tongue lolling—damned irresistable, really—waiting for the sign.

Last night I released him from his down-stay before putting the bowl on its mat in the utility room. Which was a mistake. He raced to me and sort-of heeled, pranced really, beside me, nose aiming straight for the bowl of food in my hand, leaving a trail of drool behind him as we headed to his dinner spot. To spare myself from being thus hounded, I usually put the bowl on the mat first, and only then say, “Okay”—and step quickly out of the way.

A year ago at this time I thought I was losing Aktis. He was very sick. The first depressing sign came one morning when I went to feed him, and he didn’t get up to cheer me on, much less to eat. Instead, lying on the rug in the living room, he just stared sadly, wearily at me. My heart sank.  As the days went by, and one meal after another went uneaten, it sank further. Only weeks later did he regain his health. (I wrote a post inspired by this episode, Countdown to Sorrow.)

So, gods be thanked, last night I was awake enough to rejoice in Aktis’s exuberant appetite, this sure sign of his vitality and high spirits—which, sadly, I know won’t last forever.  How bittersweet the ancient, living paradox that it’s precisely our awareness of mortality that gives to such simple moments as these their special savor. Shakespeare’s eloquent, as usual:

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.


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