For the umpteenth time, Felix was walking down to school wishing he was the dog.
The dog gets to leave him at the school gate and go romping in the forest. Not so, Felix.
Jacques was not so far off the mark in As You Like It:
“And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school…”
It is a stage, a scene in a life, and most boys must creep to school.
But it doesn’t stop them wishing fervently that they were the family cat, or dog. Or even gerbil. For surely such freedom is infinitely preferable to reeling, writhing, laughing and grief?
My answer to his wishing is always the same. “But Macaulay only gets twenty years, tops, on this planet, Felix,” I advise sagely. “Would you like a lifespan of only twenty years?”
For most of his life this has, if not convinced him, at least launched him into a reverie of consideration. Twenty years of romping in the forest and freedom from responsibility; of being endless;y loved and cuddled; a life of bones to chew and squirrels to chase, always with watchful human guardians filling the doggie chow bowl.
Might that be fair exchange for sixty fewer years of life?
It took some thought.
But the other day, as we pottered down the road, Felix had a new rejoinder.
“But Mum, ” he said earnestly, “Macaulay doesn’t think he’s living for only twenty years. To him, it’s a lifetime, and time travels differently for dogs. To him, one day is like seven of ours.
‘That,” he continued, warming nicely to his subject,”is why cats and dogs sleep a lot. Their days end way before ours and so they have to fit all their sleeps in.”
We paused to think about this, pottering along in the wake of the small dog’s behind. Macaulay is eight years old: which we are informed is about 56 in doggie years. That’s a lot of doggie sleeps. But he’s happy, alleges Felix, because time simply passes much slower for him, so that a whole lifetime can be lived. Just on a different temporal scale to ours.
And then, Felix weighed in with the killer argument.
You see,” he informed me sagely, “you have to think about sea turtles.”
I thought about sea turtles for a moment solemnly. But I got nothing, so I waited for my son to elucidate.
“They can live for more than 100 years,” Felix said. “If they looked at our lives as they were walking down to turtle school the turtle mum would say, you don’t want to be like those humans, do you? They only live seventy years.”
“But we’re happy because time passes exactly the right speed for us.”
My son, I thought, had a point. Is that how it is? Does each creature simply experience time at its temporal scale? It would make the plight of the butterfly a little easier for me to bear if that were the case. It is true that some live for up to year but there are others which have only a few precious days. But what if a day was 70 years to butterfly?
And look at the dragonfly. A year of being a horrendous carnivorous monster lurking in the shadows of pond water, followed by an all-too-short glorious finale when the cantankerous nymph scales a stem into the sunlight and warmth of clement weather. The dragonfly mates on the wing. How long can it take in its temporal scale, if a dragonfly lives for only a year?
We reached the school gate and tied up the dog. Befor he came into view of all his friends, Felix turned round and gave me a great big bear hug suffused with reluctance.
And then he turned and ran, shouting and laughing, into the playground.