Grateful for the End of January
“Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart, have you begging please...begging please”…..Eric Clapton
I know, it’s a weird thing to be grateful for, but I am. The back-to-back months of December/January wear me out something fierce.
Frank . . . December 8,, 2019
Mom . . . December 20, 2003
Dad . . . January 9, 1969
The three most important people in my past, all gone during that thirty-one day span, and man alive the memories and thoughts come flooding in, each year, at this time of year.
“Every ghost that calls upon us
Brings another measure in the mystery
Death is there
To keep us honest
And constantly remind us we are free”
Dan Fogelberg hit the nail on the head with those lyrics. Death is there to keep us honest. True that!
Welcome to the country road. The pavement ends here, at this spot, and the wonder begins. Won’t you join Maggie, Toby, and me as we exercise and contemplate life?
A Time to Decompress
For the dogs, these walks are all about adventure and exploration and exercise and spending time with their second-favorite human being (Bev will always be their favorite). For me they are about contemplation and reflection and decompression from the pressures of just living.
There are times I think I would have made a good Buddhist. Life is suffering. I can embrace that philosophy on certain days, when the melancholy shrouds me and light is heavily filtered. What musician was it who sang he was born under a bad sign? I think I was born under a melancholy sign. I wrote about it in my memoir, “And the Blind Shall See.” Melancholy is my default setting. Not sadness, per se, but just a cloudy, murky, filtered vision of life. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, even as a kid, but it really manifested itself when my dad died when I was twenty. Fade to black at that point, with grey becoming the dominant color afterwards.
So these walks are therapy for me. They are my opportunity to watch two carefree dogs enjoy life on the simplest of terms. Maggie is not weighed down by thoughts of loss. Toby does not mourn the passing of others. They are all about the wonder of new experiences on these walks. Their minds are clear of disturbing thoughts. Their hearts are light, and through them I learn to be the same, a fraction at a time, a step at a time, and slowly the grey almost resembles white . . . almost!
Progress, Not Perfection
That has been a mantra of mine for thirteen years now, progress not perfection, and greatly relieved I am. I do not have to be perfect. I am allowed to make mistakes. It is perfectly all right for me to be human. In fact, the dogs are ecstatic that I am. They enjoy me. Their love for me is unconditional, and no bullshit when I say that fills me with joy.
They also allow me my melancholy. With my dogs I can just be me. There are days I simply don’t feel like being light-hearted or silly. Hell, there are days a smile will simply not find its way to my face. Those are the days the dogs will find me especially quiet on our walks, staring off into the forest, lost in my thoughts, and Maggie and Toby, I swear, sense that and stay especially close to me. Those are the days I get extra kisses from my dogs, and some hardcore tail-wagging. Those are the days “man’s best friend” is a reality one cannot deny.
Just One of Those Days
Today is, indeed, one of those days. Everything I see or hear reminds me of Dad, Mom, or Frank. A song on the radio, one Frank and I listened to often on our little record player at college, plays on the truck radio as we drive to the farm. The disc jockey reads an ad for Sears, my dad’s favorite department store. I look into the trees while we are walking and I see a hawk perched up high, and I’m reminded of how much my mom loved listening to birds chirp on a summer morning.
There are days I just can’t shut it off, you know, and that’s all right. Memories tuck up under my chin like a favorite comforter on a chilly night, and they provide comfort.
Winter? What Winter?
As is his norm, Toby races to the natural pond which forms during the rainy season. He splashes out to the middle of it and promptly lays down in it, completely submerged up to his neck, a bullfrog on a lilly pad. Forty-three degrees this morning and that dog is completely oblivious to the chill. Then he erupts from the pond, goes vertical, and races full-speed at me, altering his course a second before collision, leaving me with droplets of water from his speeding coat.
It is almost impossible to be angry with Toby. He’s the overgrown child, the bull in the china closet, an accident waiting to happen, and his love of life is infectious. Even Maggie, the wise, old spinster, is infected by Toby’s attitude, you can see it in her reactions to him, her playful nature on display when Toby demands her participation. They are a good pair, Toby and Maggie, reminding me of Frank and I. Back then, high school and college, I was the overgrown child and Frank the Maggie, and man alive we made one hell of an odd couple, fun unlimited and consequences be damned.
Then Dad died and it all ended for me.
On the Mend
Recovery is slow but it does happen if we are willing. I’ve been willing now for over thirteen years, and Maggie and Toby do their part to assist in my recovery, and I love them for it. I say none of this for sympathy. I’m not into sympathy. I’m just trying to be real, you know. We all go through it to one degree or another, and we deal with it, rise above it, and once again place our resilient humanness on display for all to see.
We turn and begin the walk back to the truck as the skies open up and angels shed tears upon us. The dogs couldn’t care less, but I pull my hood over my head and wonder to myself if spring will ever return to us. The damp and dreary gets to me eventually, each winter, more so now than in my youth, and I am more than ready for some restoring sunshine.
The skies do not grant me my wish, but a squirrel chatters to another, the hawk silently glides from the top of the fir, and Maggie pushes her head against me, her gesture of unconditional love, and I’m reminded once again how good life can be . . . and is . . . for a man and his dogs, walking down a country road.
You are welcome to join us, any old day, round about noon. You’ll find us where the pavement ends and the wonder begins, and we would love it if you walked with us one of these days.
Thanks so much for joining us!
2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)