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The Old Man and his Dog

I see an old man walking slowly down the sidewalk with 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 holding the leash. They look like good friends.

The old man is so bent-over that his face is pointing directly at the sidewalk. He cannot straighten himself up. He is shuffling more than walking and it is taking a long time for him to cross the width of my house. His feet are moving rapidly but he is moving very slow. His little dog is patient and trying to walk as slowly as the old man.

The air is heavy with moisture and fuzzy with the haze of a warm, mid-summer morning. The sun is barely visible through it - it is orange, big and partially obscured by the thin clouds that hover near the horizon. The haze is all around.

The old man is having trouble breathing the air. Every step he takes appears to be an ordeal for him.

I wonder why he is out this early in the morning? I wonder what drives him to struggle like this in the 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 companion on this mid-summer morning? I wonder if it matters at all if I wonder?

I know full well that this moment will melt into the mass of millions of other vague, ethereal memories that exist in that cluttered collection that is the cacophony of memories of meaningless and meaningful events stored miraculously somewhere in the depths of my own aging brain.

For the moment though, I am fully entranced and intrigued by the old man passing by - walking his dog. He is so old I cannot guess his age. If I were an age-guesser I would guess he is around 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 in place - always pointed toward the ground and be unable to look up and see the clouds in the sky or the silvery glint of the stars in the night sky.

I wonder if I have a choice? I wonder if there is anything I can do now to ward off such manifestations of age? I wonder if there is anything I can do differently in my life right now to keep my aging bones from becoming calcified and crooked - and frozen into such an unnatural position.

Will I someday be the old man walking by?

I think of this 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 a perhaps a boxer. He must have been vibrant and young. He had girlfriends. He might have been admired. He might have been quite the lady's man.

Perhaps he has a wife at home right now waiting for him and the 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 in the park together.

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 miles and miles to go before we sleep. Perhaps old love is the best love of all. The fire that once raged is now but a beautiful glow.

I try not to feel sorry for the old, bent-over man, but I do anyway. I realize though, that I really am not feeling sorry for him - I am feeling sorry for myself. In the old man I see myself many years from now struggling with the reality that must become all-encompassing: the realization that life is finite and life will soon come to its natural end. The consuming thought one must feel at his age every morning that this morning may be the last morning I have on Earth. The 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 none of us ever know when.

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 is disappearing slowly into the soft summer haze. I can barely see him anymore though I am sure that he is still shuffling along at the same painfully slow pace, his dog prancing at his feet unaware.

My mind is as young as it was when I was eighteen; 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 the tornadoes nature spawns, destroying homes, hopes, futures and lives.

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 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 dark spinning towers of death.

The haze is less dense now and the sun is higher in the sky. The old man and his dog have disappeared into the summer morning. A beautiful peace this morning with it brings. Deep, dark thoughts float subtly around in mind.

The old man and his dog remind me of preciousness of this 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, I am certain, still holds onto his life's dreams tightly - for dreams never age. They still live on after life leaves us withered and empty shells. Dreams and love are all we take with us - and all we leave behind.

The old man and his dog have gone but they linger in my thoughts and will for a long time to come.

Perhaps someday, if I live to be as old as he, I will be walking on some distant and hazy summer morning, my back crooked and my face bent toward the ground. I too once was young, healthy, and I once had a lot 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 will think I wasted too much time. It may be too late then - or it may well be that it is really never too late.

I wonder if I'll ever know? Will someone younger be watching me someday as I take tiny tentative steps down some quiet street with my dog? By then I will be a very old man who has lost his youth. I might be that old man who walks his dog someday.

But, I know, if I am that old man, I'll be an old man who never let go of his dreams.

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