The savage little beasts in the backyard are at it again. No longer do they yap in their cute little puppy voices as they did mere weeks ago. Now they raise their big dog barks in unison and clamor with full voice at the intruder in their territory. Any moment I expect to hear the death cry of a squirrel, or possibly even an opossum. The cry never comes…just more barking. It is after midnight and the neighbors may be trying to sleep (as strange as that seems), so I step out the back door to deal with the miscreant rascals and chase away the tormentor. The terrifying intruder lies unmoving in the yard, illuminated by the moon and stars. A branch. That’s all it is. A branch which has fallen from the mulberry tree days ago.
Earlier today, they were frantic about a different branch and would not calm down until it was removed; so, forewarned by prior knowledge, I dutifully discard this one as well. With the offending trespasser banished, peace descends once more to the back yard and they go back to gnawing on bones, or burying them, or whatever it is that puppies do in the middle of the night. Can someone tell me what it is about an out-of-place piece of wood that irritates a couple of young canines? Are they so concerned that this branch is not where it is supposed to be? We all know branches belong up in the air, attached to trees, but to get so worked up about one which is no longer keeping its place in the order of things is baffling to me. Humans would never do such a thing, would they? We’re much more reasonable creatures than a couple of dumb dogs barking in the middle of the night!
Are we? I’m currently reading a great little book on punctuation entitled “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”, written by a stickler of a literary editor, an Englishwoman whose name is Lynne Truss. I was lurking one day recently on Facebook and noted that a friend had recommended it to another friend and I decided to acquire it for myself (Thanks, Trish!). The British humor is right up my alley, with plenty of puns and a fair amount of satire, so I have tormented the Lovely Lady by reading entire passages aloud to her for several evenings. I find myself in agreement with the “Sticklers Unite” concept espoused in the pages of the little volume and wonder why more of the educated and literate folks I know don’t object vocally and publicly to the torture of our language, both spoken and written. I have raved in my writings before about this and am likely to do so again. But, as I perused the book and nodded my head in assent, I realized the danger I was (and am) in. In the back of my head, I hear the barking of dogs at a limb which has fallen in the yard. As I read about the “Apostrophe Protection Society” (no joke! It’s a real group and even has a website to spread its message), I start to hear the whisper of “tempest in a teapot”, and “mountains out of molehills”.
I am committed to using the English language effectively and accurately. I will place punctuation in the correct position, inasmuch as I have the ability. I will even insist that the vendors with whom I do business correct errors on merchandise which they expect me to sell to the public. That said, I refuse to carry stickers on my person which state, “This apostrophe is not necessary,” to place on offending posters or banners, nor will I make it my mission to point out errors on signs in businesses which are not my own. I want our schools to teach correct usage and insist on its implementation. My belief is that good teachers (and parents who support them) will be the best defense against a crumbling language framework and if our education system fails in that, I’m fairly sure that my insistent barking won’t make any difference at all.
Alas! I see that I’ve actually taken a really long, roundabout rabbit trail this time, for I didn’t really have the English language in mind as my subject when I started writing tonight. It does help to drive home the point I am trying to make with a fair amount of accuracy and weight, though. We look at the dogs barking at the fallen limb in the moonlight and think, “What ignorant animals!” We look at the folks in the Apostrophe Protection Society and think, “What a waste of time!” All the while, we each have our pet peeves, our favorite projects that blind us to all else around and cause us to disrespect people, even to be cruel at times. If something is important to us, it must be important to everybody else, or we will make it important to them! As I write this, it’s as if I’m looking in a mirror instead of gazing at a computer monitor, because again and again, I see myself. I’m really good a barking at fallen limbs. Really good.
I recall many years ago, a lady who is a dear friend made reference to me in a conversation with someone else. “The conscience of our church”, she called me, never expecting that I would learn of it. It hurt when I did. It hurt enough for me to make some changes in how I view other people’s opinions…enough to realize that I don’t have a corner on right thinking. Oh, I still bark sometimes. Hopefully though, all it takes is the voice of my Master to still my yapping and let the limbs lie where they fall. I’m pretty sure that I can trust Him to order the world as it needs to be. I’m happy to take some time off from fixing everything. That’s a relief for all of you too, I’m sure…
I’m also thinking I may be a little smarter than my dogs. A little. You’re free to disagree if you like.
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
(Henry David Thoureau~American essayist~1817-1862)
“Whoever said, “Let sleeping dogs lie,” obviously didn’t sleep with dogs.”