Walking With Waldo

“Now this is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

             – Sir Winston Churchill, after the battle of El Alamein, Egypt, 1942

I am seventy years old.  Seventy.  Seventy?  How can that possibly be?  I understand the physics of it, the physiology of it.  I understand the chronology, the biology, the sociology – hell, all the -ologies.  But spiritually, well, that’s something else.  When I look at that wrinkled, gray-haired, age-spotted poor impersonation of me looking back at me from the mirror…  Well, it just isn’t right, that’s all.  There’s been some mistake.  I’m not him.  How did that happen?  I must not have been paying attention.

But it’s what the records show.  So, I take advantage and retire from being a full-time ER doc to being, well, retired.  I took the leap from a pressure cooker, where “life-and-death decisions” is not a figure of speech, and into the vacuum of deep space.  I’m still trying to get my head around just what it is that I’ve done.

Retired. You know what that means, right?  According to the old adage, retired means tired again.  Fitting, I suppose.  I really feel it when I do those things that used to be ordinary, like walking a few miles with my puppy, Waldo.  What, not so long ago (seemingly), I could take in stride and feel pleasantly exhausted afterward, like a three-hour stroll, I now finish feeling spent and aching in places I didn’t realize I had places.  No, not just aching, feeling real pain.  My feet, my calves and, don’t get me started, my back.  There must be some truth in this seventy thing.  Damn.  Well, maybe it’ll improve after I’ve had some time to get into shape…  That still happens at seventy, right?

Now Waldo, he’s a real sweetheart.  I chose a border collie because I wanted a dog that would force me to regularly get my ass out of the house and exercise, just to release his daily basal energy.  They are very active dogs.  The experts say they need a minimum of four to six hours a day of exercise.  I can handle that, I thought.  It’ll give me something to help fill my day and structure my life-in-retirement.  Uh-huh, sure, Mr. Age-denial.  Waldo is patient with me, though, and we struggle along as we merge our lives.  It is a thrill to watch him run and play, sniff about and explore his new world (he’s only six months old now).

We live in a large apartment complex in central Massachusetts.  There are some two dozen buildings, with twelve apartments per building, separated by expanses of green grass, bushes and trees.  Wild rabbits live there and when Waldo sees one, he bolts after it in a gallop that nearly wrenches me off my feet when he slams into the end of the leash.  He looks back at me as if to say, “Really?  I almost had him!”  I sorely wish I could let him off-leash and go after the thing.  Besides the fact that it would wear him out and give me some peace, watching him enlivens a spirit in me that I haven’t seen in quite a while.

Waldo and I, we have a January-Octoberish relationship.  He’s at the very beginning of his life and me, well, I’m nowhere near the end of mine, but I am significantly further down the road.  Being with him provides me with a perspective I might, otherwise, have missed.  It kind of closes the “circle of life” for me and reminds me, a bit, what the early years of life were like and that puts what’s happening to me now into a focus that awakens a sense of wonder.  This thing we call life is magic.  No matter what happens in it.  As bad as it can get sometimes, it is not nothing, not an empty void.  It is full of joy, pain, anger, peace, fear, self-confidence, love, hate – all the vast colors of experience that we conjure up daily by merely opening our eyes.  I look back at my life and wonder, “What the hell was that all about?” and look at Waldo and wonder, “What kind of life will he have?”  But the reality of life is in the rabbit-chasing moment.  The here and now.  Waldo excited by the chase and me being thrilled at seeing him have fun being a dog.

Waldo has been quiet for a couple of hours and is now jumping on my recliner, telling me it’s time to douse some of his nuclear grade energy.  It’s take him out now or deal with a hyperactive puppy.  I shall return.

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