May 7, 2019

Turn around point on the rail-trail


“But look thee here, boy. Now bless thyself: thou met’st with things dying, I with things new-born.”

  • The Winter’s Tale, 3.3.110-12, Shakespeare


It’s a grey, rainy day. I take Waldo out even when it’s wet, but for no longer than necessary for his biological needs – if I can get away with it. Imprisoned in the apartment, he rolls around at my feet, jumps up on my lap, plops a toy there, jumps down, chases his tail and tries his best to be entertained. But what he really needs is exercise. I wait for a hole in the storm, but Waldo is unconcerned with driving rain, deep puddles, wet puppy or muddy paws. He just wants to be outside, the weather be damned. For most of my life, I’ve spent a great deal of time watching the weather and trying to predict what’s coming. I’ve been a long-distance jogger, a hiker, a skier, a sailor, a pilot and have been involved with many other activities that require meteorological awareness. It’s the same now with Waldo. The weather is not something you can control, but it is something you can work around, when you know what’s in the near future. But it’s always Waldo-weather. Waldo could care less about rain, snow, heat or cold, there are only his needs and desires in the here and now.

I, on the other hand, have spent most of my life with my attention on things in the past or the future. The comfort of longstanding habit coerces me into thinking about other things than what’s happening in the current moment. This includes the thoughts in these blogs. Kubler-Ross defined five stages of grief and there’s a parallel to the stages I wrote about. They both, retirement and death, have similarities as they are both about transitions to a common endpoint, although that endpoint, death, is delayed (one hopes) in retirement.

Kubler-Ross’s five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Those facing imminent death do not necessarily experience all of these, experience them in any particular order and some can experience several simultaneously. The list represents more the spectrum of what people typically go through when they’re face-to-face with their mortality. Retirement has similar phases that might be called Momentum, Emptiness and Rejection, Depression, Bargaining and Planning, and New Routine. Psychological momentum (habitual patterns of thought) is similar to denial, isn’t it – you carry on with your day in familiar ways even though everything has changed. Emptiness is the absence of the routine that once filled your life and has not been replaced with something else. This leads to rejection, the feeling that you’ve been excluded from much of life because you no longer participate the way you did. These last two can lead to all kinds of feelings, like fear, anger and loneliness. If not addressed, a desperate depression follows. However, through planning and bargaining, you can set up new routines that can replace what you’ve lost and allow you to carry on with life in a new way. It’s a kind of acceptance.

Waldo and I go out on the rail-trail. The temperature for the beginning of our walk was near 70 with partially cloudy skies, but before we get back, the forecast has rain coming with some high winds and possible thunder-bumpers. I planned for the worst, including cooler temperatures, by bringing a light jacket (with a pocket I can put Waldo’s water bottle in) and a raincoat with a hood. The raincoat I rolled up and tied around my waist, the other jacket I sling over my shoulder and carry – it’s just too hot to wear. We’re at the halfway point and I’m giving Waldo his water to drink when a light rain starts. By the time I put on the jacket and raincoat, a heavier downpour has started. My upper body is well protected, but my thighs and ankles are getting soaked as we walk home. I can feel the extra weight that makes me carry and it isn’t long before we’re forced to trek through a deep puddle and my feet are soaked. I’m pretty comfortable, though, and there’s something beautiful about being out in a rainstorm – if you aren’t fighting it, but just being in the experience. The world is a closer, more intimate, place. It is lidded by thick, dark, low-lying clouds above and swaddles you in a wet embrace that diffuses light and sound so you can’t see or hear very far. Odors are supplanted with a moist fecund promise of the life that will follow. And, you know, rain won’t melt you.

Waldo is Waldo.   Rain or shine. Sniffing both sides of the path, listening to whatever he can hear, constantly scanning the surroundings for something to chase or herd. I’m not even sure he knows it’s raining.

Maybe Kubler-Ross left out a final stage. A stage with a better approach to whatever life is left – from the beginning (like Waldo) or much further down the road (like me). A stage where you don’t just accept what life has to offer, you embrace it. You don’t just fill your life with something to keep you busy, you feel, smell, touch, see and taste whatever is happening right here and now with full attention. You bathe yourself in the wonder and magic that anything is happening at all without judging it or trying to control it.

Waldo turns his head and looks at me. His hair is wet, but he doesn’t appear to be soaked – the oils in his fur help the water roll off him. His look is momentary and appears to say, “Isn’t this fun?” He’s not an enlightened soul, but he’s a lot closer to it than I am.

I can learn a lot from Waldo.

Proof that rain won’t melt you.

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