As I turn into the driveway of my country home after a long day's work, my two companions, Shilo, a yellow Labrador retriever and Bailee, a springer spaniel, deliriously await my arrival. Once again they celebrate my return with a wild happy dance in anticipation of our evening walk in the woods.
On our walk, my eyes begin to follow the movement of my two hunters. I notice their dance has changed. They move less gracefully, their rhythm is off, and Shilo ranges closer to me, laboring to keep up. Bailee has moments when she stumbles — symptoms of her hip dysplasia. How have I missed these signs of aging? Yes, I've noticed catarrhs turning their dark pupils milky and their failing to hear my calling. You would think a vet should not be caught off guard that his pets are also passing into the fall season of their lives. But I've been lulled into the same world so many of my clients find themselves in — surprised when told their pets are suffering from the passage of time, hurried along by a biological clock running much faster than our own.
And yet... my two four-legged companions seem oblivious that their dance has changed. They are caught up in the moment with unfailing enthusiasm. Their sense of smell has not succumbed to the passing of time as they breathe in the subtle smells of the forest. I find myself caught up in their undiminished curiosity when exploring their surroundings. They seem so alive, so happy, that I find myself drawn into their world.
It's as if they have a better way of accepting this season of life. Is this their gift to me? Lessons on how to live life more fully and accept my own signs of aging? I'm reminded of the great doctor and philosopher, Albert Schweitzer, who wrote:
We must all become familiar with the thought of death if we want to grow into really good people. We need not think of it every day or every hour. But when the path of life leads us to some vantage point where the scene around us fades away and we contemplate the distant view right to the end, let us not close our eyes. Let us pause for a moment, look at the distant view, and then carry on.
Thinking about death in this way produces love for life. When we are familiar with death, we accept each week, each day, as a gift. Only if we are able thus to accept life — bit-by-bit — does it become precious.
Robert Slack is a retired veterinarian living in Spokane. He currently works with people struggling with addiction.