Walking the dog

Two and a half years ago, I was walking the family English Golden Retriever through our rural neighborhood. It had only been a couple of months since my Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery, and I was having difficulty relaxing and reaching a rhythm as my pooch pulled, then abruptly stopped to sniff, jerking the leash painfully against the still tender battery implants in my chest.

I was frustrated. Unable to exercise except for these walks, becoming stir crazy in my house and the inner workings of my mind, I was frozen in will trying to sort out this new under the skin surgical miracle-world of electrodes and wires. I was literally reaching the end of my rope with each tug of the leash.

Approaching the community pond, a familiar form shuffled toward me. It was a large man, disheveled and unshaven with the vaguely menacing air and cautiously furtive manner of one of society’s outcasts. I immediately knew who he was.

I had seen him along the road numerous times over the years on his way to and from visiting a friend, perhaps his only friend in the world, an older lady who lived by the water. He was well known in the community, having sparked an outcry about ten years earlier when it was learned that he was a registered sexual offender.

His crime had been as severe as they came: the rape of an adult woman in another county some 20-30 years ago. He had spent time in prison and was only eventually released under the permanent official labeling of the State’s sexual predator statute. That was all I knew of him.

As one deemed “likely to re-offend,” any community he attempted to reside in—for the rest of his life—would receive law enforcement and neighbor notification of his presence. He had visited the elderly lady for years, occasionally being picked up and evicted by Sheriff’s Deputies after he crossed a legal threshold in his stay that met the criteria for an unreported residence.

Several days earlier, an electrical fire had erupted at the lady’s home in the middle of the night, killing the woman and allowing the man to barely escape with his life. I assumed that he had come back to the ashes to pay his respects before leaving for who knew where.

In the past, I had allowed a distant nod in passing to the man, willing to give him the benefit of the doubt so many years after paying a debt to society that, despite releasing him, still permanently labeled him. It just seemed cruel to technically offer the man a free life, but one with strings attached that guaranteed that he would be rigorously tormented forever.

But to be fair, I knew very little about the circumstances surrounding his earlier conviction. Maybe he deserved a life sentence or worse; maybe not.

“Good morning,” I said, feeling uneasy as he walked out of our upper-middle-class community with nothing but his ragged clothes and a small backpack after losing his only friend in the world.

He surprised me by answering in a strained voice, as if unaccustomed to speaking, “How wonderful it must be to just walk where you like with your dog.”

I replied, suddenly deeply ashamed at how ungrateful I had become, “Yes, it is.” I often think of that man, sometimes wondering what happened to him.

And I ponder his words, marveling at the beauty that can be found in a simple act such as walking the dog: two creatures tenuously connected in a vast and lonely world if only by a leash and the occasional affectionate nuzzle.

Imagination’s key

Intellect, perched smugly secure behind convention’s walls, fragments the soul into scattered pieces, rendering it weak with contrived conflict. We are taught to be one of many, unique in conformity’s perceived choices. Black and white, right and wrong; the options dazzle in simplicity, enticing hungry exploration forward to nowhere, like an airplane soaring west until it arrives where it started.

Words like position and legacy decry and diminish, while only the absence of argument can hint of existence. We enter this world alone, frail, and naked, but with the warm memory of a comfort beyond. Life’s parting gift is learned doubt and unease.

Reason, finite and fleeting, desperately attempts to define us, but imagination unlocks the soul, allowing a glimpse of reality through silent acts of compassion and kindness.

Humility’s legacy

Man’s basest instinct, fueled by ego and pride, goads us in a legacy of “more” as money, power, and fame greedily measure out our spiraling descent. Insecurity is humanity’s collective theme; humility our lonely virtue.

The conflict with self never ends, battling quiet mantras that ring hollow and weak, sabotaged by the competitive urges that seek to derail our chugging climb.

Life’s desperate loneliness casts its broad shadow—invisibility; not mattering; existing without being. Ego homes in on our shared insignificance, bullying the fading light, sputtering the shared flame into ethereal oblivion.

Yet, still, we struggle; we try. And we believe.

The riddle of the Sphinx

When asked, “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?” Oedipus correctly answers, “Man.”

The mythological Sphinx’s riddle illustrates the physical progress of Man through life in a linear fashion: as a baby, Man walks on all fours; as an adult on two feet; and when elderly with three appendages through the use of a cane.

As I pack two folding canes, not used in almost three years, into my backpack, it strikes me that our trek through life is in some ways substantially more complicated to explain, but far easier to accept, when viewed through a non-physical prism. Physical aging may indicate a progression, but it offers little insight or comfort.

I prefer to think of life as an arc, perhaps even as a full circle, where one dies as one was born: an infant in intellect, yet infinitely wise in spirit and rich in soul.

The two collapsible canes have reclaimed a temporary place in my wardrobe due to the need for an MRI tomorrow, which in turn requires shutting down my pulse-generating batteries for the duration of the exam. I’ve had a nerve issue causing a shooting pain down my leg for over two months, and the MRI is for my lower back.

I have not had the deep brain stimulation units (one on each side of the brain) turned off in about two and a half years. I’m not sure what to expect, particularly since I now take time released Levodopa capsules that were unavailable to me before my 2014 brain surgery. So, I pack the canes next to my DBS controller in the backpack in case I am unable to walk.

The necessity of using two canes—four appendages—to walk aligns the Sphinx’s physical progression in the same circular direction as our spiritual journey: toward a non-judgmental peace with the world last experienced, by me at any rate, as a child.

Three distinct childhood ages come to mind, reverse markers on the journey to awareness: 15, 11, and 5. These are just my personal associations with phases of growth, or decay, depending on how you look at it, and I don’t imagine that the specific ages are important. They are probably different for each of us.

I think of life’s circle reversing for me somewhere around age 45, about ten years ago. Up until that point, I had considered historical knowledge, politic awareness, and keeping up with current events as critical to understanding the world. I had lost any semblance of childhood innocence and acceptance, not realizing that the harder I tried to understand life, the more impossibly complex it became.

So somewhere around age 45, I took a spiritual turn without really knowing it. I began thinking in younger and younger terms, looping back toward a childhood awareness, not yet even sure of why. Currently, I view myself, in spiritual terms, in the vicinity of age 15.

Fifteen was an age of exciting possibility, a world of simplicity and awe of the future. It was also a milestone of when I began dampening my awareness: it was the age when I started to drink. But mostly, 15 was a crossroads where I could still get excited about first love, could enjoy a walk through the woods by myself while simultaneously developing a fierce competitiveness and appetite for adventure.

Today, I try hard to shed my competitive nature while exploring the same intensely real feelings of innocence. Whether the world is a literal illusion, or merely a façade of Man’s ego and insecurities, at age 15 I was still mostly immune to the illusion’s distracting pull.

I look forward to 11, an age of exploration when only the most basic of emotions was important. Money held no sway; power was an empty word.

But most of all, I look forward to becoming 5 again, of looking through the wise eyes of a child bereft of life’s insanities. After 5, I lose sense of who or what I was, of identity, which is a transition that offers a real opportunity for internal peace.

We humans are universally imperfect and constantly changing. As a friend once told me: it’s tough being human. Yes, it is, but that’s okay. For now, this 15-year-old might be back to walking on four legs again, if only for tomorrow.

I look forward to traveling a path of non-judgmental acceptance someday: aware, alive, at peace—and naturally—on all fours.