Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One Leaf After Another

Tasha and I used to climb mountains together. She’s been up many of the four-thousand ranges in the White Mountains and amazed hikers by hustling up and down rocky ledges that we two-legged humans struggled on. My favorite climb was White Horse Ledge in North Conway. I sat on the massive mound of rock, looking out over the Mount Washington Valley and trying to count the many ways God has blessed me. Meanwhile, she’d poke around, anxious to keep walking. Always another path to explore, another height to conquer.

These days Tasha seldom is allowed beyond our local woods. She no longer chases squirrels or pokes in the underbrush while I work—she just can’t hear them and I wonder if she’s forgotten they exist. Now she sits next to me, wanting to be gone but not having the youth to go any further. This is a problem when she’s got a cloud of deer flies around her head. I usually carry elbow macaroni or a handful of dry cat food, toss it around to keep her busy and keep her cloud of pests off me.

My new favorite place is a rocky ridge in the New Hampshire woods, a few miles from my house. It’s the tiny version of White Horse Ledge, a mound of rock that juts out of the ridge and overlooks a hidden valley. It’s sheltered by pine trees so that, if I wanted to, I could nap in the moss. There’s a rock that makes a perfect seat, allowing me to bring my computer up there and work. I’ll probably bring Tasha here in a few weeks. It’ll be cool enough for her to hike the literal extra mile, and the deer flies will have retreated to whatever hellish swamp spawned them

The small valley below is all hardwoods like oaks, chestnuts, swamp maples. Last week I saw the first spot of foliage—a few red leaves tucked high in the haze of green. That splotch of color got me thinking about inevitability. It’s inevitable that in another month, the leaves will change. It’s inevitable—at least in my mind—that this ridge will be even more stunningly beautiful than it is now. And it’s amazing that nothing I can do will stop it and nothing any of us can do can make it more beautiful. This is God’s doing, God’s wonder, God’s gift to me.

Steve and I have been looking at the inevitability of Tasha’s passing for three years. She’s outlived the life expectancy of dogs her size, and astounded our notion of inevitability. Each time Tasha and I make a trip to one of the favorite places she still can manage, I wonder if this is the last time.

Death is the big and, if I'm honest, fearsome inevitability. I can see it coming in Tasha—she’s grey and lumpy and thin and sometimes gimpy. I can’t bear to look into my own inevitability though some days my body screams that I’m on the downward slope. I look at Tasha and see old—and then she hops for a cookie and the vital, energetic dog asserts herself. I look at myself and don’t linger on the wrinkles or the sags—I see the kid inside. After all, I still love cookies, too.

I’m not so deluded that I don’t understand life's inevitabilities. The question is—will I recognize them when they come? It is inevitable that I will someday throw and catch my last baseball--but will I know that moment? Or will I look back a year later and say, I can't anymore and I wish I had known to say good-bye. When will I be too old to give a dog the kind of active life he or she deserves? When will I be too housebound to go to church? What story will be my last?

It is inevitable that the tiny valley will flame with color in October but it’s not a given that I’ll be there to behold their beauty. That death can be unexpected is one of the truths I’d rather not acknowledge. Yet how can I hide on this night when we remember a terror that came on us from the sky and ripped away 3000 souls. Some wiser than me said that was an inevitability and yet it tore our hearts from us because who could consider such a thing?

If I were wise, I’d appreciate each opportunity that God gives me. But like Tasha, I don’t always understand that someday the ridge may be too high or the path too long. As a Christian, I long for the good courage to embrace the inevitably of death and the promise of glory. But honestly, I’d rather just sit on the ridge, watch the leaves as they turn to blazing glory—and not remember that it is inevitable that they will crumble and fall.


Pam Halter said...

I've lived this very thing in the last month, Kathy. You never know what will happen when you turn a street corner or download email. But some things are, indeed, inevitable.

The turn around the corner brought the news of a loved one's death to my family.

The download of email brought life to my writing.

It's amazing how God works and that no matter what, we can trust Him.

Kay said...

I think my 12 year old daughter may have sat on my lap for the last time. It has been a while. I think tonight I will invite her to one more time so that I can make a mental note. A notch in my belt of inevitable events in the life of a parent.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Every morning that I wake up, I cock one eye open and say, "Yep! Still here...Thank you God!"

See my grandma went to sleep one night and never woke up again...ruined the whole rest of her life!

So I'm thankful for each additional chance that he gives me to screw up!

Elsi Dodge said...

That's beautiful, and haunting for me. My elderly beagle is on that downward spiral, leaving me wondering each day if she will see another dawn (I've been wondering that for about eight months now). And I too am getting older, less able, more fragile both physically and emotionally. Scary stuff! I try to cling to God's hand, trust in His providence, and remember He's sovereign—but it is, indeed, difficult.

Kathryn Mackel said...

Pam, I am so sorry to hear of your loss.

Kay, you make me think of memories I son's thin arms around my neck, hugging me with all he had. My baby daughter patting my back like she was the mama. Moments when you're surrounded by diapers that seem will never end and now I'd give almost anything to relive them.

Bonnie, I'm glad you're still here. And it's inevitable that I'll screw up today...hopefully not before breakfast.

Elsi, Marj and I discussed that very one becomes more fragile and less able to stand on one's own, in theory we know we can cling to God but when our fingers are gnarled and our vision hazy, will we know how to find Him? Forgetting, of course, that it is He who found us.

Elsi Dodge said...

Kathy—I wrote this a couple of years ago, for me. But I've been thinking about since reading your post yesterday ...

Old Age and Death
“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He Who will sustain you. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will sustain you, and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4

The leaves mourn, “Once we were young,supple and strong, beautiful workers helping our tree. But now we are deteriorating, discolored, fragile and useless.
"Weep and wail, grieve our loss, this terrible tragedy!”
Yet thousands of tourists swarm to see the autumn color in its majestic glory.
Someday, when that time comes, will I be a vibrant leaf, bringing pleasure to others and to my Creator?