Monday, September 14, 2009

Waning Hours

If you’re lucky you get 100 summers and I’m sitting here in the waning hours of my 47th.

It’s ending on a real downer. Our standard poodle, Athena, had been strangely lethargic for the past few days. We had already scheduled a vet appointment for this afternoon, but when she collapsed on Saturday night while trying to stand to greet us, we got her to the hospital where she spent the night undergoing tests and receiving intravenous fluids. Even before we left on our lonely drive home, however, the doctor was pretty sure she was suffering from Addison’s disease. It’s likely that she would have died overnight had we not taken her in when we did.

So I waited last night in the waning hours of my 47th summer for my wife and daughter to bring our very ill dog home. I had to carry her up the stairs, this dog who I’ve always compared to the great wide receiver Lynn Swann for her combination of grace and power. She’ll spend the rest of her life on medication, as I understand it, and will need regular steroid injections. According to everything I’ve read, she can be expected to live a normal, active life.

It was a chore to do anything yesterday. I honestly don’t think of myself as a dog person, although I spend most of my waking hours in the company of Athena and her golden retriever sister Waffle, and prior to that with our chow chow Vincent. I often grumble about how much simpler life would be if I didn’t have to deal with the walking, the poop collecting, the grooming, and the over-fawning aggravation they cause our guests. But it hasn’t been a relief to have my dog obligations cut in half. Instead, I’ve plowed through my busy waning hours of summer with a zombie-like tenacity, just trying to continue putting one foot in front of the other. I’m not a dog person, but I guess I am an Athena person, which is interesting if not exactly useful information to have acquired here in the waning hours.

Tomorrow afternoon I install my art show. I spent Sunday morning putting the finishing touches on the easels I manufactured last week, dusting off a few of the older pieces, creating an artist statement, and getting everything packed up for transport. On Saturday afternoon I dropped by Great Stuff in Georgetown to pick up three pieces that have hung there for the past 6 months. Kirk, the proprietor, made it clear that he wants to continue selling my work once this show is over. He’s convinced that as the economy turns around, the art market will bounce back, and he’s confident that people will want to buy my work.

That’s how things work, right? They bounce back from the bottom. I’ve had 47 winters turn into springs as well. In a few days, Athena’s behavior will be back to normal, that’s what the vet says. She’ll regain her old athletic form. In the meantime, I’m spending the waning hours of summer with a dog who this morning tried to go down the stairs on her own, but lost her footing and tumbled to the bottom.

Today is the first day of school – the best day of every school year. Not only that, but with the “slow start” schedule of our two schools, it will be a “first day” for some of the kids for 4 of the 5 days, so I can look forward to that special giddiness all week long. As the children get older, say as old as my 12-year-old Josephine, they’ll come to find a seed of melancholy within the ground of that unmitigated excitement. Transitions are like that. There are always waning hours and the older we get the more we come to anticipate them and use them for the reflective moments they offer. Sometimes I run across an adult who is so enthusiastically focused on the future that she seems to deny the past, oblivious to such things as waning hours. “The past is gone,” she seems to be saying, “Why dwell on it?” It’s not exactly childlike because young children aren’t even aware the past is gone. In fact if you really listen to young children, you learn that the past isn’t even really past.

I’ll remember my 47th summer as the one I learned to appreciate the late, great storyteller Utah Phillips. In his story called “Bridges” he tells of a friend who asks him why he talks about the past so much and chides him for trying to live there.

He answers, “I can go outside and pick up a rock that’s older than the oldest song you know and bring it back in here and drop it on your foot. Now the past didn’t go anywhere, did it?”

Athena is lying beside me as I write this in the waning hours, licking her bandage where the IV needle was stuck. She is leaping in the air and twirling with excitement. She is tumbling down the stairs. She is chasing a squirrel up a tree. She is collapsing as she tries to rise to greet us. She is taunting Waffle with her superior athleticism, biting her on the neck then running way, laughing over her shoulder.

I’ve written recently that young children remind me to live in the present, but this morning I’m thinking that’s not entirely accurate. It just seems like the present because children don’t have a lot of past to bring to bear. They have little experience with the waning hours. When I bang the drum to indicate it’s clean up time, some of them seem to be surprised all year long. Adults can’t go there and it would be a denial to try.

The past doesn’t go anywhere. In fact, it is the very foundation upon which this moment is built. The past is the very substance of the present. It's the material of wisdom.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to today. Who wouldn’t be? At the same time, I’m aware of the seed of melancholy. My day will be a roller coaster of tops and bottoms as I travel from first days and art shows through vet appointments and carrying Athena up the stairs.

At least these are my thoughts as I sit here in the waning hours of my 47th summer.


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7 comments:

Mindy Lehrman Cameron said...

May you have at least sixty more summers! Please keep writing. With great affection, your friend, Mindy

Eternal Lizdom said...

This is very deep and I will have to sit and ponder it all a bit... and I always enjoy things that inspire me to ponder.

Teacher Aaron said...

Nice writing Tom, to me this kind of writing is like a magic trick. I enjoy it but have no concept how to do it, you could show me but I still couldn't do the trick. I love the aging dog - the aging man parallel, the words like "hip replacement" are suddenly objects we can see in the far horizon and we are also watching our 20-30 year older parents deal with the things Athena is. For us middle age folks there is something about realizing your past is the larger sum of your years, than your future will be. I feel so fortunate to be a teacher and actually have a summer, the time to just be rather than just some days of nice weather I can enjoy on my weekends.

Song for the day
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZGHTkmhxgQ

MOM #1 said...

Many many more summers to you!

Floor Pie said...

That sounds like quite a scare. I'm glad to hear Athena's going to hang in there. Isn't it amazing how the loss or aging of a pet puts our own lives in such remarkable perspective?

katy said...

i appreciate the bit of realism you've brought to the cliche of "living in the moment." i agree, we have no "moment" without the past. We can't deny that we are complex beings, made up of past, present and future. To try to be in just one of those would be like trying not to be human. comforting and normalizing to those of us (me!!) who get taken with the idea of the present.

Best to your dear Athena.

Pumpkin Delight said...

ohh, what a weekend. I'm sorry you had to deal with a sick dog. As that extra responsibility can, at times, be a pain, dogs are amazing animals; Truly the epitome of unconditional love. I hope she mends quickly.
Hope your first day back went well.

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