It’s Memorial Day again and, if you follow fashion, it means that it’s now safe to break out the white outfit and shoes, at least according to custom from the nineteenth century.
The real reason for Memorial Day, of course, is to remember those who died while serving the country. While we may celebrate the event with parades and barbecues and picnics, the occasion beneath is quite somber — something that can be too easy to forget.
But we’re human, so of course we forget a lot of things, which is why on this day before Memorial Day we should take a moment to reflect on what we have forgotten and how our dogs can help us remember.
Left on their own, dogs will follow only one schedule: Nature’s. They don’t need watches or clocks or calendars. Their own instincts tell them what time it is or what time of year it is. Other than how many hours in a day they’re active, they don’t have rules about what they can do at a particular time of year. They have long days in summer and long nights in winter, and the only clock they’d normally follow is the one in their heads.
Humans, of course, are quite different.
I mentioned wearing white above, and one of those weird human rules is that we’re not supposed to wear that color from Labor Day in September until now. Is there any good reason for it? Not at all. It was a trend started by the wives of millionaires after the U.S. Civil War. And yet, this “rule” persists until this day.
Another tradition counts Labor Day as the social end of summer and Memorial Day as the beginning, but any astronomer will tell you that this isn’t the case. Summer is still three weeks from now, and fall doesn’t start until two and a half weeks after Labor Day.
What’s the difference? Well, the actual start of the seasons are marked by an event we can’t control — the position of the earth relative to the sun. Our human start to the season is marked by a calendar — but as humans we have many different calendars. The one that says tomorrow is May 29, 2017 is different than the one that says it’s the 4th of Sivan, 5777, or 3 Ramadan 1438.
Now remember how our dogs react to our human concepts of time. In particular, think about what happens when we change the clocks forward or back to begin or end daylight saving time.
Chances are, your dog will be up an hour late in the spring and an hour early in the fall for a few days until your rhythm takes over. And even beyond the time change, how many of you have dogs that are always up at the crack of dawn and wander off to bed as the sun goes down?
Without our influence, this is exactly how dogs would live their lives. Before the invention of electricity, it was also largely how humans lived theirs — up and down with the sun, planting and harvesting based on the actual seasons. The phases of the moon weren’t just a pretty display in the sky. They were one of our major timekeeping methods.
There’s a reason that the word for “month” in a lot of languages comes from the same word that “moon” does. (In Japanese, they are exactly the same.) And for a long time, in a lot of places, the passage of time was marked by two things: how long it took the moon to go through one complete cycle of phases, and how long it took the sun to return to the same place in the sky relative to us — for both days and years.
Needless to say, in our 9 to 5, Monday to Friday world, using the sky as our clock and calendar has fallen by the wayside. Instead, we measure things based on completely artificial constructs. This is probably necessary if we’re going to coordinate and get things done as a species — but it’s also very detrimental in the long run to our health, both physical and mental.
For one thing, not everybody’s body wants to follow that kind of schedule. For another, the twice-a-year time change can wreak havoc with everyone’s internal clocks and lead to actual health problems, often life-threatening. Unfortunately, in our modern world, we rarely have the option to break this schedule and follow the one that our bodies would prefer.
What we can do, though, is remember our relationship to Nature, and how she has provided us with ways to know when and where we are. And, whenever possible, we need to remember to take those opportunities to just relax and be in the moment, not tied to any clocks or calendars or deadlines.
If you’re not sure how to do that, keep looking to your dog. She always knows what time it is, and the importance of taking the time to remember your place in Nature — and she’ll be more than happy to show you how to do the same.
Stay calm, and remember!