“It was a dark and stormy night.” On my morning walk with our dog, in the aftermath of a storm that spawned two mild tornadoes near my home, I thought of Snoopy, sitting on top of his tiny dog house, typing that same line over and over. In comic strips that never fail to make me laugh, Snoopy tries again and again to publish his stories, which all begin with the same line, only to face rejections that become increasingly rude. In one comic strip he receives two rejection letters, and the editor tells him that the second one is for the next story he writes.
Snoopy actually plagiarized his first line from British novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford, written in 1830, which has been much parodied to poke fun at bad writing. It tells the story of a valiant highwayman brought before a judge who sentences him to die. The thief escapes to America with the woman he loves—but he also learns in a convoluted plot that the judge who orders his death is actually his father and the uncle of the woman he loves. At the beginning of the first chapter the author quotes a poem by George Crabbe, a British poet from the late 1700s: “How would ye bear to draw your latest breath / Where all that’s wretched paves the way to death?”
Frankly, I prefer Charles Schultz’s funny, floppy-eared dog to either of these guys. Snoopy is forever at the mercy of a cast of children who are no different from most adults I know. He made his first appearance in thePeanuts comic strip on the day my husband was born—October 4, 1950—and by the time I was born in 1956, Snoopy had evolved to walk upright and voice his thoughts in speech bubbles. I grew up reading his observations about the contradictions of the human beings around him.
That my thoughts drifted to Snoopy made me smile at my own foibles. At work yesterday as a fierce storm approached and unable to head home until after a 2 ½ hour meeting, I made a decision completely lacking in common sense. I decided that if I were drawing my latest breath in a wretched path to death, I didn’t want it to be in the basement of a dreary cinderblock building built before 1950—and added onto again and again like the houses built around trailers in the hills where I grew up. Panicking, I left work just after a tornado warning was posted for other side of the county.
Ten minutes into a 40-minute drive home, the sky turned an angry blue-black, and rain plummeted in torrents. The blare of a new tornado warning blasted from the radio, filling the car—the path this time directly across my route home, a winding road arched with the long limbs of beautiful, aging trees. I pulled into the parking lot of the nearest public building—a 7-11—and joined a gathering crowd as we watched a number of cars and school busses forge ahead on the road we had left. We all stood stupidly and gazed at the storm from behind the plate glass windows that formed the front wall of the store.
I called my husband to check the path of the storm on radar. He told me that I was safe where I was and that I should stay there for the next 15 minutes until the warning expired. When my fellow travelers and I left a few minutes later, the sky was a cloudy gray-blue again, and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. In fact, the glow of the sun filtered through the rain clouds in the west at exactly the point I’d seen a rainbow a few weeks before. I looked hopefully to the east and thanked God for protecting fools and little children on school busses.
When I got home, my husband hugged me, and we laughed at the dog, who hides in the walk-in closet of our first-floor bedroom every time there’s a storm. The dog bolted toward me in what we call turbo-dog mode, racing in figure-eights around us until the next clap of thunder sent him scurrying back to the closet.
Eager to walk this morning, the dog waited by the door, wagging his tail. It was no longer a dark and stormy night, though the clouds spit droplets at us now and then. It occurred to me that during the storm the dog’s instinct had been exactly the opposite of us humans—he went to the safest place and stayed there. I realized that I had done exactly the same thing as the atheist mother I wrote about in a previous blog—the woman who had panicked and outrun the storm with her toddler in the car. And I imagine we had both done the same thing as the apostles who went out on the seas to fish even though there must have been storm clouds somewhere on the horizon.
We’re not all that different, we humans, when life’s storms threaten to knock us about. And sometimes the animals seem to have more sense.
Tell me your common sense and animal sense stories.