Love and duty are often spoken of as mutually exclusive. For most of us, they just don’t harmonize with each other, because we love something and we’re required to devote ourselves to something else entirely.

Having been brought up in a nuclear family with parents who had grown up in joint families, I was used to hearing interesting stories, especially from my father. One such anecdote involves my great-grandfather and a dog he used to own.

The family had a dog at that time (and for now, I’ll call him Ultra). He was loyal and devoted, but he was getting old. My great-grandfather bought home another dog, a strapping young German Shepherd, whom he was really fond of. The new member of the family was treated like royalty – given the lion’s share of the food, care and attention. Quite naturally, Ultra was embittered by this new unwelcome change, as he now had to be content with the scraps. Hurt by the change in favors, Ultra walked out on our family with his self-respect intact.

He decided to take up residence at a nearby market, which my great-grandfather happened to frequent once a week.

Every week, grandfather would go to the market for the household supplies, and Ultra would go up to him, staying by his side. He would walk beside him all the way from the market back to his former home, but despite continuous requests from grandfather to come back and stay with them, Ultra never returned. He would stay put at the gate, wait for his former master to be safe inside, and then trot back to his new-found home.

I often ask about this particular dog, even though dad is more familiar with others that came after him. Ultra’s strength of will amazes me. How many of us can boast of being in love with duty, or duty being love? Often, we resent the many situations in life, we carry ourselves with guilt or indifference, only wanting to get done with the many issues at hand.

That we can learn so much from our four-legged companions is reason enough to respect every living being on this planet, and not just other human beings.

I just hope I can handle the situations in my life with such cool detachment.

Dear Ultra (even though you’ve no idea who I am), thank you for being my lesson, and my inspiration.

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