Every morning I follow a ritual as inevitable as the rising of the sun and a hot cup of coffee (one Splenda and a splash of cream, please). Reaching into a wicker basket that sits beside the front door, I pick up two leashes and attach them to Toby and Moe, the little mutts who have been in charge of our home for almost a decade.
Out the door we go, and “neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays us from the completion of our appointed rounds.” These rounds include the pups “doing their business,” of course, but there is also a necessary and enlightening bit of exercise. The exercise is for all of us, and the enlightening is my own, for my canine pals always teach me a lesson: Pay attention to your world.
The three of us can walk for half an hour along the same sidewalks we have covered hundreds and hundreds of times. We can take new, twisting trails into the nearby woods. We can do laps around the yard. It makes no difference, the dogs always find something new to sniff, to see, or to investigate. Their world – our world – is a cacophony of discovery.
I want to live my days like they take a walk, bounding out the door each morning, my lease on life renewed. I want their incurable curiosity, searching for the unexpected in the routine. I want to learn to chase butterflies, to eagerly meet people along the way, and to stop and listen for what is barely audible over the horizon.
Like them I probably need a yank on my leash from time to time to keep me from danger, or from getting into a big mess. I’ll need to be told to “Shhh…be easy, now,” more than once. But the occasional correction or misstep is better than allowing the years to rob me of the simple joys of seeing, hearing, exploring, and being.
And when each day is done, and I’ve spent the energy I have, like them I want to come home happy, eat well, drink cheerfully, curl up with those I love, and fall into the deep sleep of blessed assurance. A little scratching behind the ears wouldn’t be so bad, either, would it?
Yes, this is the lesson I am learning on these daily walks: Take it all in. Soak it all up. Be “grasped by what cannot be grasped, and be changed by what cannot be reached.” The act of exploring, of being open to whatever is next, of welcoming whatever is around the bend even though you don’t know what it is, isn’t a bad way to approach the world.
As Turkish novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk says, “Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” Figuring out how to listen – both to our dogs and to all that is around us – might be the greatest lesson we ever have the opportunity to learn.