The last week has been a momentous one for my wife and me. I had a birthday at the beginning of the week; my reaction to turning 80 is one of restrained enthusiasm - it is at least better than the alternative.
But, after decades of birthdays which I had successively characterised as meaning that I had, first, reached "late" middle age, and then joined the ranks of the "elderly", I must now accept that I have become undeniably "old". It is not an unwelcome conclusion - and everyone congratulates me on reaching a "milestone" - but no one is impolite enough to question the ultimate destination of the journey on which this milestone has been reached.
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Inevitably, however, thoughts of my - and our - inescapable mortality must arise. And I am sorry to say (and, I really mean, truly sorry) that I had another reason to confront the inevitability of life's conclusion. Our dear little friend, Lachie - our little westie - "shuffled off this mortal coil" on my birthday.
Thank you to all those of you who inquired as to how he was faring. He put up a good fight but it was one that he could not win. The cancer was too tough for even our brave little chap to overcome.
In the end, he seemed puzzled as to why he was down on energy and confidence and was struggling for breath. We were not even sure that he could still see and all of his usual appetites had diminished. In his last days, he became bewildered and disoriented - and the heat did not help.
It was a mercy that he had to say goodbye. We buried him on my birthday and we have mourned him every minute since. He has left us with a sense of loss - an absence, a void, a hole in our lives. We constantly sense that we can hear him or see him in our midst. His was a life that was inextricably entwined with ours.
His passing, the ending of his life, has reinforced for my wife and me our sense of the worth of his life. It confirms to me that the point of living is what you bring to it and what you can bring to others.
Our lives are for sharing. There would be no point in a life that was led in lonely isolation - concerned only with its own destination or salvation - with no bonds with or links to family and friends or pets. It is our interaction with others, with other lives - human or otherwise - that gives definition and purpose to our own lives.
Our lives are hugely enriched by that interaction. And we have the opportunity to recognise the pleasure and reward we gain by investing some part of our own lives in those of others.
The only real question is as to how far afield we should look to establish that interaction. Most of us will easily identify those closest to us as deserving of that kind of relationship - and, of course, we do not feel the same kind of involvement and dependence for all others as we feel in respect of our nearest and dearest.
But, if we can at least see that even strangers have the same experience of what it means to be alive as we do, then we take a giant step towards a living experience for everyone in which love and kindness are the supreme virtues - and what a wonderful world that would be!
It may seem to be reaching too far to ascribe to little Lachie the inspiration for such a utopian train of thought. But, among the many gifts he brought us was an understanding of what it means to love and be loved - and how important that is to the human condition.
- Bryan Gould