Thursday, February 19, 2009

Grace & Dignity

I ran my hand up and down Malcolm's hind legs. He was nervous at first. He doesn't like his paws being touched. However, I spoke to him calmly and reassuringly while I looked for any sign of the bite that the dog walker said he received from a neighborhood dog. Thankfully, I found none. Malcolm may have a bruise on a muscle, but the skin wasn't broken and there is no physical sign of trauma. We both seem relieved. I sit on the floor with Malcolm for a few minutes, scratching his ears and neck and simply enjoying the moment.
As I do so I look at Malcolm's face. The fur on his chin is very grey and he even has grey on his chest, upper leg and haunches. I chuckle to myself; we seem to be greying in tandem. We're getting older.
Malcolm has been moving slower lately. Not when there is food involved, but rather when he gets up from a nap. He pushes himself upright with his front paws and waits a moment or two before he slowly lifts his back-end up.
Not too long ago, we saw this in its extreme. We were going to bed. The TV was turned off and the telltale "click" of the stereo powering down is usually Malcolm's clue to start heading upstairs. Malcolm pushed himself up with his front legs but was very frustrated by the fact that he seemingly couldn't lift his back legs up, too. I shushed Doyle out of the living room and said "Come on, boy. Let's go to bed."
Malcolm tried to move - and couldn't.
"What's the matter, Malcolm?"
He looked at me, straight in the eyes.
Do I see sadness there? Concern?
I walked behind Malcolm. His tail wagged strongly. Still, no movement. I began to stroke his back. "Take your time, Malcolm. No rush," I said as I ran my hands softly down his hind quarters. "It's OK. We'll wait for you."
Malcolm looked back at me and breathed deeply. Then, slowly, so slowly, he started to lift himself off the floor. I guided him with my hands, adding a little bit of "oomph" to his effort. Soon he was standing upright, tail wagging. He waited a moment or two more before he slowly made his way to the stairs. I walked beside him the whole time. We reached the bedroom and he walked over to his bed that lays at the foot of our bed and he laid down again. He looked up at me from his forest green dog bed and wagged his tail. I reached down, scratched his ears and said a quiet good night to the old boy.
Throughout this whole ordeal there was not a sound - nor a whimper - from Malcolm. I have no idea what truly ails him. I think he has arthritis and he's going to the vet next week to confirm this. Yet, for all of these little moments where his body doesn't react the way he wants it to he comports himself with an uncanny grace and dignity. I know he's hurting sometimes. Yet, through it all, he comes to the door when we arrive at home and he runs around the house with his grunties when he's feeling playful. Like me, I think these moments of activity result in many days of aches and pains. Still, he shoulders on.
Malcolm is now allowed to sit on the sofa with us when we're watching TV. He derives comfort and security from being close to us and, when I'm 77-ish, I hope that people treat me as well. Sometimes, when he's laying with his head on my lap, he looks up at me and wags his tail. I scratch his ears or his chin and whisper "Good boy" and he seems content.
As he puts his head back down on my lap and slowly drifts off to sleep, I realize one simple fact: Our dogs become old just as, someday, we surely will, too. As we watch them age, we see a glimpse of our own future; a destiny that we are fated to meet.
I hope that when I meet mine that it is with the grace and dignity that Malcolm is showing me everyday.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Bienvenu a Wherever

"How will we know when we get there?" I asked from the back seat.
"What do you mean?" my Mom replied.
"I mean, will it be different?"
She laughed. "You mean, will it look different?"
"No.It will look much like home."
"Oh. OK."
I sat back and continued reading my comic books. It was a hot summer day and the windows were rolled down. This was air-conditioning for us in 1979. I started imagining what it would be like when we got there. Suddenly, Dad pointed to a sign along the highway. "Say goodbye to Massachusetts," he said as the station wagon roared over the border into New Hampshire.
"We're in New Hampshire," I yelled. Mark and Barbara cheered from the back-back seat.
"Do you smell the air? Doesn't it smell different?" I asked.
Mom started laughing.
"So clean, so fresh. Wow. That sign said 'Bienvenu' - I wonder if they even speak English here. What if it's all French? We're screwed!"
Even Dad chuckled at that.
"How long is it until we get to the hotel?"
"Maybe another hour, Andy," Mom replied. "Just sit back and enjoy the ride."
I sat back, but I barely noticed the ride. I was too busy thinking about our upcoming stay at a Holiday Inn in Portsmouth before we went to Aunt Barbara's summer cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee. Until this time, we had NEVER stayed overnight outside the state of Massachusetts.
In fact, this trip was an exercise in Peterson family planning.
Dad had put a large glass container on the floor in his bedroom. This was our vacation fund. For the last six months or so we put all of our spare change into this barrel to help defray the costs of our first family vacation out of state. I remember adding all sorts of change into this bucket from the money I got from Paul the Barber to run his errands to leftover lawn mowing money from Grandma King (minus comic book expenses, of course). We ultimately saved 68.00 in the vacation jar and this all went towards our expenses. Plans were put in place. Dad took a week off. We loaded up the country squire and off we went to points north. I was 13 years old and the idea of staying overnight in another state was HUGE to me. I had never been away from home and never wanted to be.
I was truly too provincial.
This may be due in part to the fact that my parents neither had the time nor the inclination (and perhaps not the money) to travel. When they did talk of traveling they had set their sights on Florida - long after we three kids were out of the house and on our own. I got the idea that this was part of their retirement plans. I think going to Florida was the travel plan of everyone in their generation. In any event, we did not travel. When talk of travel did arise it was always in the far-flung future. While I think Mom may have mentioned going to Ireland once or twice, that was just kooky talk to me. Only rich people went to Europe. We were not rich. Again, I was excited to be in New Hampshire.
I am reminded of this story because, in two days, Jenna boards a plane to vacation in Costa Rica with a group of kids from her school along with their Spanish teacher. The 9-day itinerary includes a visit to a waterfall in the rain forest, a visit to some hot springs and a boat ride through the Tortuguero Canals. From what she has told me Jenna will try bungee jumping and ride a zip line through the canopy of the Amazon jungle. It will be the trip of a lifetime - until her next one. I have no doubt that this will not be her last trip abroad.
I am so glad that, unlike her father at this age, Jenna wants to see the world.
I want her to see it, too.
Safe journey, Jenna.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Who Disturbs the Pond?

I have decided to change the direction of my life.
I have decided to learn Tae Kwon Leap.
Listen at the feet of the Master.