Our oldest dog, ZuZu, died last month. I'm still grieving. So when I looked through my previous Thanksgiving Day blog posts (a holiday here in the United States), it seemed fitting to share a 2013 post, "Our 14 year old dog teaches me about thankfulness."
That dog was Serena, shown above in her younger days on a bank of the Metolius River in central Oregon. Here's most of what I said in the blog post I wrote about her when Serena's health was fading.
She doesn't look like she did in her younger days. But heck, who does? Surely not me. Being almost fourteen, Serena is something like 100 years old in dog time.
Serena is a Shepherd/Lab mix (her sisters looked like black labs; we were thrilled to get a kind-of German Shepherd-looking dog with a laid back Lab personality -- great combination). Her back legs are weak, a common trait in aging Shepherd canines.
Yet she still can go on a mile walk every evening with me and ZuZu, her four year old sister-dog. Not literally; they just look somewhat alike.
Serena chugs along, uphill and downhill, across two creek bridges, around a neighborhood lake, through grassy fields. I fired up an iPhone GPS app a few days ago. We meander along at an average of 1.8 mph. Hey, not bad for a 100 year old.
Her pooper, which may not the precise veterinary term for what controls her bowel movements, isn't working very well.
Most mornings we get up to find roundish firm dark "presents" in the room where Serena and ZuZu sleep. A tiled room, thankfully, because some days the poop is mushier. Which, in case you're worrying, is all I'm going to say on this subject.
Because its my Thanksgiving Day thankfulness thoughts about Serena that are important. I'm grateful that she's helped me realize the importance of, so to speak, sniffing the heck out of life every single freaking day.
I used to look upon our evening dog walk much differently. That was when both Serena and I were younger, when it seemed like an endless stream of dog walks lay before us.
If Serena paused too long to smell something, inhaling the scent of what, to a dog, at that moment, is the most fascinating thing in the world, I'd get impatient.
Hey, Serena, I'd think, get a move on; I've got other things to do than watch my dog obsess over a clump of grass that, to my impoverished human senses, looks utterly meaningless.
Now, though, our walks have taken on some of the quality of the Zen "Enjoy the Strawberry" parable.
The meaning of living fully in the present moment, neither retreating to the past nor anticipating the future, is wonderfully illustrated by a Zen parable about a monk being pursued by a ferocious tiger.
The monk raced to the edge of a cliff, glanced back, and saw the growling tiger about to spring. The monk spotted a vine dangling over the edge of the cliff. He grabbed it and began shinnying down the side of the cliff out of the clutches of the tiger.
Whew! Narrow escape.
The monk then looked down and saw a quarry of jagged rocks five hundred feet below. He looked up and saw the tiger poised atop the cliff with bared claws. Just then, two mice began to nibble at the vine.
What to do?
The monk saw a strawberry within arm’s reach, growing out of the face of the cliff.
He plucked it, ate it, and exclaimed, “Yum! That’s the best strawberry I’ve ever tasted in my entire life.”
If he had been preoccupied with the rock below (the future) or the tiger above (the past), he would have missed the strawberry in the present moment.
I'm thankful when Serena stops to taste her canine equivalent of a strawberry. My dog-expert wife tells me that dogs experience dementia just like people do.
But I prefer to think that when Serena suddenly stands still, staring off into the distance for no discernible reason, she is drinking in the present moment. Just as I should always be doing. As we all should be.
Because even though I'm appeciative that Serena's advancing age and deteriorating health have helped remind me that I'm in the same sinking mortality boat she is, it shouldn't take a 14 year old dog to remind me that we'll never know when the last time will come.
Probably it won't be very long before Serena and I take our last evening dog walk.
There's a good chance I won't know which one it is. So I want to look upon every walk as our last walk. I want Serena and I to enjoy it like the best strawberry (or chew stick) either of us has tasted in our entire life.
The older I get (I'm 65 now), the more I realize there is only one way to cheat death: making the most of every moment. Not in a frantic skydiving, tango in Buenos Aires, howl at the moon fashion (though there's nothing wrong with this).
In the sense of being present, in the present.
Serena is. Dogs always are. Serena doesn't know she's old and getting ever closer to dying. She just knows that when her nose senses an enticing odor, it needs to be attended to.