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An Old Dog’s Tale: Thanks for soft blankets at the start, and at the end

By Wayne Downing

Observer columnist

Published on November 21, 2017 5:10PM

I don’t really know (for sure), but I seem to think that as a baby, I spent a lot of time lying on soft cotton blankets. I don’t remember the touch of rain or winds or strange people talking to me in funny voices. But overall it was a wonder to be born, a miracle and a revelation, and I’m thankful for that.

I do remember my mother picking me up and holding me gently, tickling me in places I didn’t even know I had, suckling me and giving me warm comfort. For that I was thankful.

All the changes I went through came at the perfect time. One day I was five. What a wonderful year that was! No longer was I stuck on a blanket in the middle of the floor and crawling into other rooms to learn new things. I got most of my education from TV, kindergarten and girls. And I got a tricycle. Wow! That was fun! Round and round the driveway I went, chasing the dog, plowing into flower bushes, coming home dirty. I was thankful beyond measure.

(Nothing defines a man, at any age, more than dirt.)

One night, in an unguarded moment (and I was fully grown), I crept out of the house and laid down to watch the sky. It seemed like I was looking at brightly lit sailing ships; they were everywhere above me. A billion trillion specks and planets and stars and comets and all the things we can only guess at with the names we give them.

But who am I?

I am the only one of me (and really, in the universe, I am no one.) I don’t look like anyone else, not even my brothers and sisters. I turned on my side, my eye brushed a blade of grass. And for all I know, that blade of grass was infinitely more important than I was. The world around me was strong and symmetrical, surely something made by a greater hand.

I propped myself up on my elbows. So what was to become of me? I didn’t know how to do anything. Everyone else has a chore in life, as far as I could see. Maybe I was lost and alone. So I decided: I am part of the whole, a sliver of redwood, a scale from a great whale. I am beautiful because the world is beautiful.

My primal thought was love. But I was running out of time.

I wasn’t paying attention. I ran through years of darkness and crawled out middle-aged. I was an old man without the breath to breathe the fresh air that came my way, eating Girl Scout cookies with broken teeth.

Can I be thankful for that?

I’ve always thought that vice highlights virtue. Weeds die and flowers grow, children comfort us when it becomes their turn. The earth forgives us.

I love a crystal clear sky and the sheen of the trees. Every living thing has a billion colors within them, all eager to escape. I love the stones and the sand and the bits of bones. I’m thankful for all the little things (the big things I’ve left to the young). I’d love to live long enough to get medicine that actually tastes good.

Whoever decided on the girl-boy scenario did a wonderful job. I love the warmth of a woman’s hand, even on the chilliest of days. I love how her hair smells, and the glow from her eyes. I love her finely tuned shape.

And now I speak to the men whose love lies beside them at night: please say you still love me. No longer can I lift things. No longer are my decisions very wise or very thoughtful. Even after my body withers, I walk with a limp and I cough too much; even after my clothes are worn and out of date, how I talk too much and spend too much time in the bathroom, you’ll still be with me. I can’t say it out loud but I’m afraid. I can’t provide much of anything to anyone. But my heart is true. I am bursting with pride that you love me. And I know that someday, one of us will comfort the other with that final, soft, cotton blanket.

I am so thankful for that.


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