Wednesday, June 20, 2012
My thoughts for this week center on the concept of age.
I have friends who I consider peers stretching back to an age that is not much more than half of my own. I also have friends, good friends, who are biologically old enough to be my parent. The impact of age on mobility, ability, and capability seems to be less important with time although the gaps in generations seem to remain present, perhaps as an undertone to the mainstream current of innovation which keeps us all sort of lined up in the present.
I took Hunter on a walk today and it wound up being too far. It was not an ambitious walk, nor was it too hot, nor was the route too hilly. He is simply too old. I picked him up and carried him for 200-300m twice on the way home. It was a good workout, utilizing biceps, core, lower back, and legs. An older gentleman in a shiny new pickup offered us a ride. It was a sad moment but not unexpected and I have been preparing for this eventuality for years.
The beauty of being Hunter's dad is that his life mirrors my own. He reminds me what it felt like to be young, carefree, to have an infinite source of energy on tap that needs to be released somehow. I remember dreaming of the day that Hunter might finally slow down, that there might be slack in the leash. That day arrived a while ago.
The excitement of the adolescent canine matures into the stability of the adult dog. This is the timeframe which often blurs for us as owners, the in-between stage when the lessons have been learned, and the major milestones are silly mistakes like eating a small piece of wire and having to be cut open to remove it or almost drowning by tangling up in a buoy. This stage of life becomes routine and predictable, a calm sense of togetherness develops and the predictability lends a certain comfort.
The senior years are remarkably unique. I remember walking a friend's dog once who could barely make it down the driveway and reflecting on how different that was than walking Hunter. I now own a dog who is a senior and acts like one. It is sad not only because I remember the dog he used to be, but because I am at the age where I have started to feel my own mortality as a human and I can see how his progression is a more rapid version of what awaits me if I am lucky enough to live into the golden years.
At the end, a walk around the block becomes difficult. A bath becomes the event of the day. Weight control becomes more of a challenge and the mind needs more consistent rest in order to operate in the ways it once did. I assume that is what will one day become of me and I think the scariest part of looking ahead to that point in life is realizing that I won't have someone there to take care of me like Hunter does, like my father does, and like my sister does. Certainly this is all my own doing, my decisions and my life's circumstances have lead me to a place where the concept of family really doesn't exist. When I visit my sister's family tomorrow, it will be me entering into her world, not our two worlds meeting up. When I visit my father it is much the same, I bring only myself, nothing more, nothing less.
I suppose Hunter may be happy because he has me, and an extended network of friends to look after him. Indeed, the list of possible caretakers is long enough that he frequently gets to see someone new every time I leave town. But I'm not sure he really needs much more than someone to pat him on the head, feed him, and medicate him, his needs are so simple and I could learn a ton from that. So maybe he's just happy to wake up and explore for another day.
What will I want as my body deteriorates? Will it be sarcastic banter? Will it be fresh and nutritious food? Will it be someone to learn from? Someone to teach? I'm sure all of that would be nice, all would be appreciated, but I truly do not know what I will consider most important so I find it difficult to understand how to make good decisions today which will support me many years in the future. In the meantime, each day I get to share with Hunter seems like a more and more precious gift as I watch his body deteriorate and I watch him approach the end.