This is the third of a 3-part journal entry. To follow the story from beginning to end, read The Call, and The Longest Ride (ACZ Archives, November 2014) prior to reading this post. – Paz
Our journeys together have the power to overcome that endless river, the cosmic clockworks, time itself. Our lives are filled with memories of moments. Each of these, like a snapshot, a sound bite, can be recalled repeatedly, at will. It is the essence of timelessness. It is the attainment of immortality, in a manner, in that we each live on in the hearts and minds and lives of others, long after our imminent demise.
This I have learned from my grandfather, the original “Pop Pop”. From my sainted mother, Marie Lillian. From a few others that have gone before me. Their faces, their voices, their smiles are engraved in my memories. They have shaped me and continue to do so. Every so often you may hear a little New Jersey in my pronunciation. You may be showered with proverbs credited to my grandfather. “My grandfather always said…”
This day, my journey with my beloved dog of nearly fourteen years, Chuy, brings us to the Veterinary Clinic, following a sudden onset of a loss of control over his legs. Unable to stand without assistance, unable to walk without careening side-to-side like a drunken man, this appointment is one I sorely dread. What is the prognosis for an old dog that can’t walk? I couldn’t say the words out loud to the receptionist.
“I’ll wait outside in the van with Chuy.”, I told the kind woman with the saddened face sitting behind the desk.
Why is this tale fitting for Armchair Zen entries?
More than any time in my life I felt an inner calm, an inner peace, a sort of “knowing”. I find it difficult to express. Here was one of the dearest things in my world facing the real end, yet I felt prepared to move through this. Yes, it saddened me. Yes, in spite of years of stumbling down the zen path, I still felt some impending loss. Still, it was not a fear of loss. Not a sense of longing for past days, nor so much the feeling that something big and important, a constant through so many years, was to be taken from us forever.
There seemed, somehow, to be a natural ending occurring. A shuttering of sorts, akin to the putting-away of domestic things in preparation for winter.
These things are not gone or ended forever. They are squirreled away in storage quarters, or buried beneath the frozen soil, or in some cases, standing right where they’ve stood all year, but now without foliage or flower.
Vernal equinox brings that which fades into Autumnal equinox. The book of moons remains unchanged. Such is the way of all things.
Doctor Durie walked out the front door of the vet clinic. He had that concerned Doctor look on his face. Not the “it’s great to see a happy dog for another well-check.”, nor the caring half-smirk of “So, he didn’t learn from the first porcupine, eh?”. But the look of “Oh [sigh]. What do we have here?”.
I described the symptoms robotically. He can walk, but has no balance, falls over. His eye is twitching. His head is tilted to the right constantly. Maybe a stroke?
“Strokes are extremely rare among dogs,” Doctor Durie stated. Kind of him to share, but that didn’t help me. He picked up Chuy’s head, listened to his heart.
Doctor Durie patted Chuy’s head. Then he looked me in the eye, poker-faced.
“He’ll get over it.” the doctor concluded.
“What? Seriously?” I nearly shouted. I was dumbstruck, elated, confused, anxious. I hugged my dear puppy.
“It’s vestibular syndrome,” Doctor Durie stated, and went on to explain how tubes balance air pressure between the two ears, affecting balance. A tube or vestibule stops working on one side and their balance is shot. “He’ll learn to compensate for it. A few days to a few weeks. There may be some permanent change, but he’ll be okay.”
I paid the nominal vet bill. “Best twenty-five bucks I’ve spent all year!” I said to the happy-faced receptionist. Glee all around, for the receptionist, for Doctor Durie, for me. Chuy wasn’t all that gleeful, but if he could have understood the conversation, he’d be gleeful in his heart.
One more step in our wonderous journey together. A reprieve, however brief!
It would be a few days before Chuy could really walk on his own without bouncing off of my leg every third step or so. Today, more than four weeks after I first received that startling call that Chuy had collapsed, he’s almost back to his old pace.
He retains a crooked head, cocked slightly to the right almost always. If he shakes his head as dogs are wont to do, he sometimes staggers afterward. I think his hearing is worse than before, and his dog-tracking is off a bit (his rear paw doesn’t land where his forepaw was lifted while walking, as has been the case hitherto.)
Day two of his ambulatory recovery, we pressed, both of our old, less-than-perfect selves, to walk the trail all the way to the top of Nishan Hill, as we had done hundreds, perhaps thousands of times before. Our place of reverence and serenity, our hilltop cathedral.
“The longest journey begins with a single step.” says an old proverb. There is only one journey for each of our conscious minds, and it is our lifespan here on Earth. The single step is forgotten long ago. It was a day in 1960, when my mother’s beaming smile let go of my hand that first time, that moment.
She knew what she was doing. She didn’t want to let go of her baby. For me, it was the first, single step.
For her, it was but one step of our journey.
Be at peace,