Old Dog

     We live in a fairly rural area, on the edge of a major city. We are accustomed to a wide variety of wildlife all around us. We’ve identified dozens of birds, trees, flowers, frogs, toads, peepers, bats, and grasses. Not to mention snakes, lizards, and assorted slimy, slithering, crawly things. So, it’s no surprise when some creature shows up right outside our door. Like the other day when Rudy showed up.

     Rudy is our neighbor’s dog. He’s really old. He has a bum back leg and is mostly blind. He managed to cover the nearly half-mile distance between our house and his without getting hit by a passing vehicle. I guess he mainly stayed to the path that runs alongside the road, in the woods. He’s a very friendly dog, given to wagging and wriggling. And shaking. His back leg is really getting to be a problem for the poor guy. He usually pals around with his buddy, another dog but much younger, who also is a swell guy. They are both welcome here and our dog loves to see them. However, where Star (the younger dog) goes on home when he’s done visiting, poor old Rudy doesn’t always see Star leave and therefore has no idea how to get home. His owner is not always available to come and get him. So we lead him toward home on the wooded path. Once he gets the scent, he perks up and trots on home, muscle (and nose) memory kicking in.

    Meaning no offense, I was struck by the similarity with some of the old stars of yesteryear who get led out to a pitcher’s mound to throw out the first pitch. They seem to have difficulty moving. Stiff joints, uncertain legs, perhaps poor eyesight all impede their approach to the mound. Once atop it, however, it’s like magic. The roar of the crowd, the smell of the grass, the feel of the mound beneath their feet and – voila – they are transported back in time to when they stepped up there, resolute and clear-eyed, and stared down even the toughest batters. Muscle memory kicks in. They know, they just know, what to do. Often, the pitch is surprisingly hard and right on target.

    What happens when I get old? Maybe I, too, will have difficulty seeing clearly. I already wear glasses – and hearing aids. Things could get worse. If I don’t keep walking every day, I tend to stiffen up. I forget things, people, places, events. I get lost driving – although, in my defense, I’ve never been very good at directions. If I get too far off the beaten path, will someone lead me gently back? Will I know the direction to go? I wonder if, in spite of it all, I will still be wagging and wiggling, grateful to just be alive.

     This is where I believe cultivating an attitude of Little League affirmation is critical. Cultivating an absolutely deep-seated sense of positivity (atta girl! atta boy! you got this!) toward all people – and life in general – will produce the muscle memory necessary to keep us from seizing up altogether later on in life. We may have difficulty finding our way from time to time. But getting close to the path, the mound, the field, whatever it is that represents our strongest self, will evoke those long-held memories and allow us to rise to the occasion. We may need a little assistance from time to time, but we’ll get there. We can do it. And we can do it with grace and aplomb, even if we shake a little bit.

     Yeah. You got this. Atta girl. Atta boy. Keep swinging.

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