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Death of Hugo and the Mystery of Past Reality
August 7, 2021
by William P. Meyers

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You can't take pets with you

In the past I had a pet dog named Hugo. Really he was my wife's pet, but we all lived together. Around 2008 my wife and I were living in the country near Point Arena, California when she determined to get a puppy. She found one she liked when visiting San Diego, an alleged poodle and Maltese mix with white fur.


Hugo died last Tuesday. We knew he had cancer, but his demise was sudden. He seemed fine in the morning, walking our usual mile and one half. In the afternoon he started vomiting blood. We took him to a veterinary emergency room. After an examination and discussion, we put Hugo to sleep.

I miss Hugo. He is in the past. The past is a mystery. But then almost everything is a mystery. I don't know what is going on inside my neighbor's homes. I don't know what is going on, in any reasonable detail, in China. Or the dark side of the moon, the other side of the galaxy, or far, far away in what seems to be an extremely large and extremely old universe.

I have memories of Hugo, and some artifacts. I have a feeling of sadness when I think about his final hour of suffering before he was put to sleep (first literally to sleep, then poisoned to near instant death). We sent him for cremation, but will not take the ashes. The dead body was Hugo's body, but it was not Hugo. Hugo was a curious, friendly, energetic being. A dead body is just cold meat.

My reasoning tells me the past is just as real as the present. Beijing is just as real as Seattle. Cruelty is just as real as kindness. The earth was old when dinosaurs roamed about. Yet it is clear that many people are confused about some of the basic relationships of reality.

Take heaven and hell. We do not know when these concepts arose in prehistory, but they arose pretty far into the human past. People realized that there was something pretty special about the difference between a live and a dead person. Also, occasionally a person would wander off and assumed to be dead, only to reappear years later. The idea that there is somewhere the thing-that-animates-us, call it spirit or soul, goes when people die is not unnatural. But it does make a fundamental philosophical mistake. It assumes everything in the past moves on into the future. The dead body moves on by being eaten, decaying, being burned or buried. The animator of the body does not move on. It evaporates like water, it disappears like a log in a fire pit.

Dead dogs, and people, or at least the animator plus body creatures that we know and perhaps love, are in the past after they die. The past is a perfectly fine place. Sure, it is not paved with gold like an imaginary heaven, but then it is not filled with an eternal torture like hell. The past stays exactly as it was when it was the present. In the past Hugo was distressed when taken from his mother, but then he fell in love with his human mother figure. The treats of the past were real treats, the occasional hurts were real hurts, the chases of squirrels, rabbits, and other small creatures are in the past just they way they happened when the past was the present.

Those of us who are living are also in the past. For most children, the past is short and the future is long. For an old person like me, clearly the past is much larger than the future. I say I am mainly in the past. My parents, my grandparents, and all my ancestors are completely in the past. I like reading books written by people who are now completely in the past, but that does not effect them or the past. The books are interesting and sometimes helpful because the nature of reality does not change that much between past and present.

Many times I have shared my view of the past, as a better holder of dead people than heaven or hell, with religious people. It seems to be quite appealing, helping people break through the religious nonsense that messes up their presents and futures.

Rather than elaborate, I would ask you to think about the nature of the past and form your own conclusions. If you think it will help someone grieving over a pet or lost friend or relative, try sharing in a sensitive way. The past may be forgotten, but it is as solid as any other aspect of reality. If we loved someone, whatever we loved them for is still there. We cannot reach that place and time again, that is part of the nature of reality, but not being able to reach places is just part of our limitation as human beings, as creatures not so very different, in many ways, than other mammals and perhaps even other kinds of animals.

Hugo knew about the past, though not likely in a philosophical way. He had memories. My favorite was the lizard outside the little storage barn at our former property in California. One day he saw the lizard and made a dash at it. It escaped under the barn. Every time we went for a walk after that he checked that spot to see if the lizard would be there and needed chasing. But the lizard knew a thing about reality, too, and avoided that spot, where being warmed by the sun led to the risk of being attacked by a dog.

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