An Old Man and the Dog
I see an old man walking slowly down the sidewalk; he is walking a small dog on a leash. The old man is hunched and barely able to walk. The small brown and white dog isn’t barking. He’s trying to walk as slowly as the old man who is tightly holding onto the leash.
They look like good friends.
The old man is stooped and his necked is crooked so his face is pointing down at the sidewalk. He cannot straighten up. He is shuffling more than walking, and it is taking a long time for him to traverse the patch of sidewalk in front of my house. His feet are moving rapidly, but he is moving very slow. His little dog is patient, and he is trying to walk as slowly as the old man.
The air is heavy with moisture and filled with the fuzzy haze of a warm, mid-summer morning. The sun is barely visible through it – it is orange, big and partially obscured by the thin, streaked clouds that hover near the horizon.
The haze is all around.
The old man is having trouble breathing the humid, syrupy air. Every step he takes appears to be an ordeal for him.
I wonder why he is out so early in the morning. I wonder what motivates him to struggle in this warm, thick air. I wonder if he is taking the dog for a walk because he feels he has to, or because he wants to. I wonder if the dog has anything to do with this walk – other than being the old man’s. I wonder if it matters at all if I wonder.
I know that this moment will melt into the mass of millions of other vague, ethereal memories that coexist in the cluttered collection – that hive of memories, both meaningless and meaningful, that are stored so miraculously somewhere in the depths of my own aging brain.
In this moment though, I am transfixed and intrigued by the old man walking his dog. He is so old I cannot even guess his age. If I were an age-guesser I would guess ninety -but I have no way of knowing for sure.
I wonder what it would feel like to have my back permanently bent like his. I wonder what it would feel like to have my face permanently frozen so I was always looking down at the ground. I wonder what it would be like to be unable to look up and see the clouds floating across the surreal blue summer sky, or to never again be able to look up and see the majesty and wonder of the stars in night sky.
I wonder if I have a choice. I wonder if there is anything I can do now to ward off the degradation and deformations of age. I wonder if there is anything I can do differently to keep my aging bones from becoming calcified, brittle and crooked. I wonder what I can to so that I don’t face my final days with my head twisted down and frozen into such an unnatural and awful position.
I wonder if I will someday be the old man walking by.
I think of the old man and realize he was my age once. He was a child once. He might have been a football player, a track star, or even, perhaps a boxer. He once was vibrant and young. He had girlfriends. He might have had many admirers. He might have been quite a lady’s man.
Perhaps he has a wife at home right now waiting for him and the little dog to return. Perhaps he is her world and she is his. Perhaps on days when the pain is not so great they still hold hands and walk through the park together. Perhaps they have many children. Maybe some of them live far away.
Perhaps young love is not nearly so deep and profound as old love. Perhaps old love is what we all seek when we are young and have such a hard time fighting off the desires of youth that we never find it. I think old love is the best love of all: old love when the fire of youth that once raged has burned away leaving only a barely-glowing ember.
I try not to feel sorry for the old, crooked man – but I do anyway. I realize then, that I really am not feeling sorry for him; I am feeling sorry for myself. In the old man I see myself years from now struggling with the realization that must come with old age: the realization that life is too short. When I am very old the trail of days behind me will be infinitely long, and the trail of days before me frighteningly short. It must be a consuming thought to wake each morning and think that this could be my last morning; it could be last time I brush my teeth; the last time I comb my hair; the last time I eat breakfast.
The last time I….
We all do things for the first time and we all do things for the last time and not one of can even know when the last time we will do something will be.
Age will take its toll on all of us if we are lucky enough to live long enough. Some of us age sooner than others, and none of us know until we get there exactly what price time and age will extract from us. Some of us pay dearly for living longer – and some of will never live long enough to pay the price.
The old man has finally passed my house and disappears slowly into the soft summer haze. I can barely see him, but I am sure that he is still shuffling along at the same painfully slow pace, with his dog prancing at his feet blithely unaware.
My mind is as young as it was when I was eighteen, but my body isn’t. I wonder if this could be a cruel joke nature plays on us. Putting an eighteen year-old brain in a ninety year-old body seems as heartless as savage storms nature unleashes upon humanity.
Nature does not play games. Nature is serious. Nature is no joke. Nature is as beautiful as it is deadly. Nature is the ultimate juxtaposition of all things lovely and all things lethal. Nature is a mysterious and unsolvable paradox of beauty and peace and violence and death. This serene, hazy morning might swiftly become an afternoon of violence, destruction and death. Thunderstorms may come on this wings of this afternoon, and spawn dreadful, dark, spinning towers of death.
The haze is lifting now that the sun is higher in the sky. The old man and his dog have disappeared into the summer day. The day is beautiful and bright, but deep, dark thoughts swirl around in my mind.
The old man and his dog reminded me of preciousness of this single morning – the evanescent nature of the seasons – the sanctity, frailty and brevity of life – and the enduring treasures that are time and love.
The old man must still hold onto his life’s dreams tightly – dreams never age, dreams never die. They still live on after life leaves us, and we are nothing but decaying, withered, empty shells. Dreams and love may be all we take with us – and all we leave behind.
The old man and his dog have gone but they linger in my thoughts.
Perhaps someday, if I live to be as old as he, I will be walking on some hazy summer morning, my back crooked and my face bent toward the ground. I too was once young, healthy, and had a full measure of time to spend. I know I’ll think I should have taken more time to enjoy the things in life that matter most. I may look back and think I wasted too much time. It may be too late then. Maybe not.
Maybe it is never too late. I wonder if I’ll ever know.
I could very easily be that old man who walks his dog… if I had a dog
But even with out a dog, I’ll be an old man who never let go of his dreams.