Old dogs and elderly people know how to live. They perfect the “so what” approach to living well on earth. Neither will intentionally do harm nor fail to love unconditionally; both can still bark, but biting is as rare as running.
I once cared for a friend’s nineteen-year-old Golden Retriever while he was away. They lived in a third floor apartment, without an elevator. “Sonny” having never, ever “did his business” indoors had to be taken outdoors at least three times a day. Leaning against the stairwell walls to keep himself upright and taking one step at time, Sonny was always happy and eager to go down the stairs and outdoors. We would take a leisurely and slow walk to a large grassy area where other dogs and people came together.
Once the true purpose of our excursion was accomplished Sonny always seemed to recall that there was once more to his life. Cloudy eyes and no doubt a decreased sense of smell did not deter him from knowing that other dogs and people were present in the grassy place. Sonny would muster up all the canine dignity he could, steady himself, and let go the loudest primal bark he could, which most often caused him to fall over flat on his side. Lying on the ground and wagging his tail as best he could his expression seemed to ask, Did I make anyone run away when I barked?” “You cleared the whole area, Sonny,” I always assured him. I’ll admit I always made sure no one (especially another dog) was watching when I helped him to his feet and steadied him for the walk home. It took a long time for him to walk back up the stairs, but I always let him do so on his own because of his grateful “I did it!” face once we made it to the top.
As a former health care practitioner and now a clergy person I’ve spent a good deal time visiting elderly folks. Rounding nursing homes, I’ve taken care of folks such as the former pianist of Vaughn Monroe’s big band of the 40’s and 50’s, and watched over folks who were never able to speak to me at all.
One isolated outport fishing village in Newfoundland where I served as Anglican priest (more…)