“Come on, Aussie, time to go.”

“Where are we going? Oh no, not to Jimena again and people needing help! I already did my work today, it’s time for me to have a rest.”

“What work did you do, Auss?”

“I went to Leeann. You think that’s easy? That means running around with Crazy Evi the Mountain Cur and going back for a treat from Leeann. Chasing Percy the Golden and going back for a treat from Leeann. Splashing around with Lucinda the whatever, going back for a treat from Leeann. Chasing rabbits, going back for a treat. I worked hard!”

“Aussie, Bernie used to say that throughout our life we must take care of ourselves, the family, the community, and the world. At various times we’ll emphasize one over the others, like when you have little kids, but always we should try to do something all around.”

“That’s too much for me.”

“I mean small things, Aussie. For instance, this evening we’ll help out the immigrant community that lives 20 minutes away from us. I also give money to send medical supplies to Ukraine. I talk daily with my mother and weekly with my brother and sister. And for me, I sit, read, enjoy the snow.”

“And what do you do for me? The Man should have said: We must take care of ourselves, the family, the community, the world—and our dogs!”

“Aussie, you can also serve. You’re the only dog Jimena’s not afraid of. She was bitten badly early in her life and she won’t get near other dogs, but she loves you. She comes out to stroke you in the car—”

“Big deal! And speaking of big deal, do you notice how many Ukranian refugees take their dogs and cats with them?”

“What a fight they’re putting up. In contrast, we live spoiled lives here in the Valley, Auss. When I think of the things we complain about! The WiFi is slow, a pipe froze and burst in the garage—”

“You weren’t so happy about that!”

The check didn’t come quickly enough. The car needs more work. Why is it always snowing when I want to go out? The Ukrainians have so much less, and right now their world feels much bigger than ours! They’re focused, they know what they want, they know what’s on the line. We forget. Often the world feels like it’s shrinking around me and I find myself worrying about small, petty things. It’s so easy to get self-involved! So guess what, Aussie? You’re coming with me to Jimena!”

As I was growing up, whenever I did something my mother didn’t like, which was quite often, she’d say: “You don’t know how good you have it. I never had the chances you have. I never had the opportunities you have.”

The chances for what? Opportunities for what? I think she meant higher education and a “good marriage,” none of which I cared about. It’s not my fault I didn’t live during the Holocaust, I wanted to tell her.

What did I care about? I wanted to live a big life, a meaningful life. From a young age I didn’t want to live according to what’s acceptable. Even when, as a teenager, I worried about dates on Saturday night or what friends would say about me, I knew deep in my heart that none of those things really mattered. I didn’t want my life to end small.

What I did was, I’d go to the ocean. We lived a mile from the Atlantic and I’d walk there and stare for hours at the big waves crashing on the sand. There was violence there but also wide horizons. I saw there both big desires and big threats I couldn’t yet articulate. Ocean storms could be terrifying, but I wanted to be part of them. I didn’t want to live in the margins.

The Ukrainians are now the waves reminding me of the bigness of life. It’s why we cheer them on, isn’t it? American veterans who have no history there go there to fight because, finally, there’s a fight for democracy and human rights that’s clear and straightforward, without equivocation. You can argue about different aspects of the war, but given the Ukrainians’ resistance, there’s not much argument around their fight for their right for self-determination.

We can’t all go to fight like that, but I think that many of us ardently wish for a life of principle, of cause, the kind of life our children will tell their children about.

Outside the snows are melting, causing white-foam streams that hurtle down rocks and into rivers that gush into oceans like the Atlantic. In our heart we want to be part of that explosive energy, the water that always flows back to the essence. Living a Life That Matters, a subtitle of one of Bernie’s books. In silly ways and in serious ways, this was what I wanted for myself.

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