I Publius: Why serve? Murray asks for answers

alanmurray1Murray, the world’s cutest dog, sat his behind on the sidewalk and said (in perfect English taught to him by the Literacy Network of South Berkshire).

“Pop, I’m not going anywhere until we have a serious talk. There are some things I just don’t get.”

“OK, Murray,” I said. With that, his head went to one side and his little pink tongue came out of his mouth and his Westie ears stood up in happy anticipation.

“Why would anyone want to be a member of the Great Barrington Board of Selectmen, the Board of Education, a school committee or any other governmental post? It takes them away from their families, they miss meals, and they can’t be exercising — so many of them grow fat and put their health at risk. They have endless committee meetings and subcommittee meetings. Eventually, everyone who is unhappy about anything starts to hate them. They get calls at all hours. They hear from some people who clearly have some kind of diagnosable character disorder or a major anger management problem. I just don’t get it, Pop. What’s in it for them?”

I pondered this important question put to me by the pugnacious pup who sat their like Ferdinand the Bull. I couldn’t get him off of his derriere so I said, “Look, Murray, walk with me and we’ll talk this out.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” said Murray. “I know you and your tricks. I want a straight answer before I go anywhere.” 

“All right, all right,” I barked back at the cute little guy. “People undertake this service because they want to count.”

“What do you mean, ‘want to count?'” asked Murray .

“Well, there was this great song that Pete Seeger used to sing called ‘Passing Through’: ‘Sometimes happy, sometimes blue. Glad that I ran in to you. Tell the people that you saw me passing through.'”

“I don’t get it,” said the little Westie. “What do you mean?”

Growing a little exasperated, as teachers sometimes do when they are failing to get a point across, I told Murray, “People want to mean something in life before they pass on. They want to leave their mark, much as you do, Murray. They want to contribute something to their community. They want to know that when they’ve passed through, they will have left something of themselves behind. They want to know that their lives had meaning and that they imparted something good in the world.

“Of course, some people have other motives,” I continued. “Some are power-hungry. Some are nuts. Some are angry. Some want to escape their houses or run away from a spouse or a lover. But most, Murray, most of them do it because of their commitment to the community they live in.”

“Hm,” mused Murray. “I think I get it. Could I run for selectman?”

“Well, I certainly think that you have the qualifications. You are smart. You play well with others. You always want to make people happy. I’ve never seen you bite anyone. But, of course, you’d have to get nominated and I’ll have to research the law to find out if dogs can run for office. I’ve seen some pigs do it and win. But dogs? Well, I just don’t know.”

“But, but — ” stammered the cute little dog, “this is a civil rights issue. Why am I worth less than a pig or a person?”

And then the little dog began to cry real tears.

I picked him up off the ground and cradled him in my arms.

“Don’t cry, Murray. I have an idea. We’ll make up some stickers that say ‘Murray the Dog’ on them. Then when a bunch of self-selecting people are running, we’ll encourage people to vote for you for any office. It’ll be good for candidates’ humility, particularly when they are running unopposed. You’ll be getting votes for all kinds of offices and then when the election results are announced, your name will be in the paper.”

“Yes, but Pop, what if I win?”

“We’ll get you a suit and a tie, and you’ll just sit there until a vote comes up and then you’ll say, ‘Ruff.’ If they don’t let you serve, we’ll go to Great Barrington town court and argue with Judge Frederick Rutberg. He’s a heavy thinker.”

Murray said, “Pop! Pop! That’s a great idea! I’d love to be a selectman. I’ll try to pass a town ordinance allowing us dogs in coffee shops so we can sit there with our people. Like in France.”

“I can’t argue with you, Murray.” And with that the little dog got up and we continued on our walk.

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/16/09

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