Our dog has recently started working as a therapy dog. Her primary clients are a group of seniors, many of whom struggle with Alzheimers. One woman we visit has a girlishness to her that belies her age. She has a certain elegance and sits with perfect posture in spite of the fact she is sitting on a somewhat saggy sofa, watching an aged French bulldog be passed from lap to lap. You can tell she was once considered very beautiful and might have led a somewhat charmed life before her memories disappeared.
On one visit, she asked me about our dog’s background, and I explained she was a former show dog who has retired to the suburbs after having all of her pups. I explained that I thought our dog missed being fussed over in the ring and might enjoy getting out and meeting new people. The woman looked at me quite seriously and then laughed and patted my hand. “I know that,” she said, with her twinkle in her eye, as though we were both in on the same secret. I laughed. I know too well what it’s like to be a proverbial former show dog, retired to the suburbs, looking for a little bit of attention. I could tell she did too.
I think, like many of us, she’s lost a lot through the years, but she’s maintained her sense of style, her composure, and that twinkle in her eye. She reminds me a little of my grandmother who, in her final days, did not always know what year it was but knew that she came from strong stock; that our purpose on this planet was to be kind to others, and that people ought to dress up for dinner.
When I visited with this woman, I thought about those things we are able to carry throughout our lives in spite of the setbacks. In my forty-some years, I’ve lost a marriage, two homes, a career, my sense of trust, and – for a long time – the ability to move forward. These losses have led to major changes in friendships, political views, and my spiritual outlook. Through it all, however, I’ve maintained my gallows humor, my need for justice, a love of fashion, an insatiable appetite for good books and Miss Vicky’s chips, and a hatred of flip flops, white chocolate, and cilantro. I wonder if these preferences will stick with me for life.
I hope that one day, I can sit in a community center, waiting for some lady to pass around a French Bulldog.
I hope I will remember that once upon a time, I was strong, and resilient, and could find the humor in just about anything.
I hope I will have a twinkle in my eye, and if they pass out a tin of white chocolate biscuits, I hope I will turn them down.