She sleeps at my feet, her paws splayed in front of her greying nose. Her breathing is labored, yet comforting and familiar as she always has been. She came into our lives over fourteen years ago, a friendly one year old puppy on her way to the pound. Her owners couldn’t keep her any more. The look on her sweet face captured my son’s heart, leading to the look on his then ten year old face that pleaded, “Mom, we have to keep her!”
So we did. She joined our already topsy turvy household of four children including a toddler that chased poor Cindy Lou around the family room couch. Dear Cindy spent many hours being chased. I remember one birthday party where she took humor in the chase. We had hidden a clue to the scavenger hunt in her signature red collar. She knew she had something important and played along in the game, not letting anyone get her. She smiled and teased that sunny afternoon, taunting, “You can’t catch me!” In the end, she gave up the clue with a roll over on her back and a rub on the tummy.
Unlike the rest of us in the house, Cindy is very scheduled. She knows when it’s time for our walk. We logged many miles together on our walks, comfortable in each other’s silent presence and an occasional chase after a squirrel. I miss those walks with her now. It is all she can do to get up on her paws and waddle down the driveway, doing her thing along the way, then turning around to waddle back. She still remains scheduled, as I hear her pad into my room at 4 am every morning to let me know its time to go out. I see it now as my nightly star gazing ritual. I take her out at look into the sky to find the few constellations I know I or look at the moon. When its time to go in I clap my hands loudly. She can’t hear me call her name anymore. She turns her head and wags her tail and waddles back in, waits for her scratch on the head, and we both settle in for a few hours before another day begins.
“Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
Why is there so much clarity in those silent places with our most loyal friend. Freedom in the quiet. Calm in mere presence. And an exchange of mutual love even in the wee hours of the night.
Yesterday I rub her back as we sit in the veterinarians’ office when suddenly all those years of her faithful companionship overwhelm me. I break into tears out of nowhere. Maybe it’s menopause. Maybe it’s the truth that all around me everyone is aging. My dog. My mom. My children. My friends.
That same morning my friend and I simultaneously laughed about and anguished over wrinkles and age spots. What do we do about it? Do we give in and fix them or age gracefully, wrinkles and all.
Why is it so hard to accept the wrinkles of aging, those folds in life that reflect the pain and the worries of our journey. We want to smooth them out, but it is those wrinkles that define us and reflect the strength we have carried and the grace we have sustained to endure the bumps along the way.
This week those bumps loom even larger as I face daily the effects of time. Time that ticks away for my mom as she progresses slowly in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, yet robs my dear friend’s father so quickly. Time that ticks away for my children that now, one by one leave the nest, leaving me alone, with more time to discover or uncover nuggets of truths that have been nestled under all the busyness of caring for others.
And today in the vet’s office this truth hits hard: in all these moments Old Faithful has been there beside me. One who knows me better than I know myself. One who senses my moods, who knows when I need comfort. Who looks at me and through me with loyal eyes and complete acceptance. One who is with me when I walk under sun kissed skies and in the middle of the darkest night.
She is tired. She has age spots. She has trouble breathing. But her tail still wags when she sees me. She still smiles through clouded eyes.
I am grateful for what this companion has taught me about unconditional love. And she continues to teach me, as all of us age, there is much power in a good back rub, in being present in silences, that wrinkles and grey hair are outshone by loving eyes, and that an occasional groan is okay. And at times it’s hard to get up, but sometimes you just do, move forward, and get a treat. And companionship, the kind that has worn a hole in the pavement beside you, rain or shine, is the best treat of all.