Our family is not one to stand still. We fall easily into the pace of rushed crowds on New York City streets, and we barrel ahead in pursuit of goals. We move forward, and then we move forward again. Even our family walks seem to be driven, marching along familiar neighborhood paths, distracted by conversation, and, for the past twelve years, led by our trusty furry companion, Lucy, whose entry into our family was the very thing that initiated this nightly routine.
In the beginning, our young daughter struggled to control the dog’s leash, stretched to its limit as Lucy charged ahead and sideways and around with a puppy’s boundless energy and curiosity. Our five-year old son’s small legs couldn’t keep pace, until he finally insisted on riding his scooter on the family walks so he could stay with our group. As a family, we walked with co-equal purpose – to connect with each other and to wear out our young children and puppy before bedtime.
Our family walks naturally evolved over time, so subtle that it almost escaped notice. Heavy homework nights or sports schedules started to creep into this time. Our daughter moved to college making the full family walks a rare and precious treat during her visits. But whether the walks included the full family quorum or just my husband and the dog under an oversized umbrella in the rain, the walks, the daily routine, persisted.
Recently, however, the walks have grown steadily, undeniably, heartbreakingly slower.
Last night as I went for the leash, Lucy perked to attention. We set out for a distance roughly equivalent to a single lap around a track, and as we began our slow stroll, Lucy’s tail wagged and her head pivoted to check out her surrounds. She detoured to meander through overgrown grass and dandelions. We crossed the paths of four runners, Lucy stopped to acknowledge each one as they passed, and we were greeted in return with that familiar runner’s wave, as if to acknowledge the shared understanding that it is a gift to be able to move your body through the fresh spring air. Lucy slowed to smell the smells, to study the trees, to look up at me. And then, fifty feet from our home, her legs gave out. So, we sat, huddled next to each other, and quietly acknowledged that she could do no more. There was no panic in her eyes, though there must have been in mine. She is content, but she is tired. And it is time for her to just rest.
It was, in all likelihood, our last walk.
Life undeniably has its seasons. I believe that just as we greet the beginning with fanfare and attention, so too is it vital to be deliberately present during life’s end. As much as I have spent a lifetime of wishful thinking to ignore it, end of life can’t be ignored, nor death ultimately put off. I learned this painfully, deeply, in the experience of my father’s passing. In a very different way, I confront life’s realities again through our faithful canine companion now. How many times are we each forced to experience the tremendous highs and lows of love and loss in all its forms?
If we are lucky, too many.
Walk slowly with me.
Let us not rush quickly past those things that are most worthy of our quiet attention.
Be my steadfast and faithful companion.
As I have been yours.