The grand ole dame, who runs the household and owns my heart, turned 14 this month. As cliché as it may sound, it seems only yesterday she was chewing the furniture, chasing her ball for hours and eating me out of house and home. We used to go to the field outside of our neighborhood where I would hit tennis balls with a racket and she would bound towards them, excitedly running with fervent abandon to retrieve the prize. She never tired and always wanted more!
As we all do, however, Juno has grown old. White tufts of hair now woven into the sea of black proclaims her youth has vanished, leaving vulnerability in its wake.
Our routine has adapted as well. Each evening, she slowly approaches, ball in mouth, wanting to play. That tail, lifted high and wagging purposefully, announces her knowledge that despite my protests, I will comply with her wishes. And I. ever the obedient one, dutifully take her outside. Instead of 15-20 missiles to the back of the property, I now throw 2-3 balls a few feet away, wincing inwardly as she happily retrieves them, returning frothy and tired, but gleeful. Her arthritis evident by her stilted gait, does nothing to deter her. She wouldn’t even think of complaining. After the three tosses, I bring her back inside (she doesn’t protest) and put her into her favorite “den,” my carpeted closet where she curls back into her bed for a nap.
I wonder if she understands how feeble she has become? Is the ball routine a charade for her? Is she afraid that if she lets go of the daily ball chasing, that her life is over? I wish I could read her doggy mind. It may be silly to project human thoughts and emotions on animals, yet it is so easy to do when we enmesh our own lives around them.
Interestingly, while Juno has slowed down over the past decade, she has also become more mature and loving. She really enjoys our quiet times each morning. After her breakfast, Juno walks over to me, puts her head into my lap and closes her eyes while I rub her head, scratch her ears and talk softly to her. She comes for this every single morning. And to be quite honest, it is the highlight of my day.
The idiom that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks is not quite correct. I could teach Juno some new tricks, but why would I? When you come to love and accept someone/thing for what they are, why do they need to learn new tricks? And the time we have left together is better spent enjoying the unconditional love and surrender you can only get from a dog. (Sorry cat people).
The reality is, that Juno is not the only one slowing down. I, too, am growing old. More and more, spontaneous ideas have evolved into deep reflection and introspection. But I am not a dog. Therefore, in order to continue to thrive on my life’s journey, I must continually grow and evolve. Because, you see, life, knowledge and technology are always evolving. I came to the realization many years ago, that life equals learning…every day…and becoming stagnate was not an option for me.
Reflecting on my career, despite my inching towards retirement age, I knew that I still had so much left to do…to give. And that by working so hard for the past 34 years, I had not only gained financial stability, I also gained something else: choices.
Looking within, I had to discover the answer to the really big question: What would fulfill me the most? How could I move forward in my journey and still make a difference? The answer came, not in a blast of fire-works, but as a slow burning fuse, eventually illuminating the steps towards my truth.
Now my path will be veering off towards a new destination. After working in state child welfare for three decades and then in corporate leadership, I have decided to return to my first love: direct practice with traumatized individuals. I will be working with kids, adults, and families who have been affected by trauma, helping them start on the path of healing. As a clinical trauma professional, I can set my own hours, implement the skills I have learned and most of all I can work directly with hurting individuals. It’s almost full circle from where I began, but I know it is where I am supposed to be on my journey now. I have so much more experience and knowledge of trauma than I did 30 years ago. The ability to use those skills in direct care will make a difference.
I am so excited to begin this new chapter in my life. But, I have no illusions that it will be easy. Nothing really good is, you know. Oh, I could wax poetic and say my entire journey was a preparation for this final path.
Or, maybe, like Juno, it is just my way of still playing ball but at a much different pace.