Malinka is a stately old gal, with her thick white hair and a robust stature that might call to mind Queen Victoria. Malinka is a centenarian--in dog years, that is. By the human calendar she is 14, an august age for her breed of Polish Tatra Mountain Sheepdog (or Owczarek Podhalański in Polish) which has a more typical life expectancy of 11 or so.
Malinka belongs to Adele, who, like me, is in her early 50s. If you even the longevity playing field, we are roughly half of Malinka's age. And so, indeed, we have much to learn from our elder.
I met Malinka and Adele while on one of my daily jogs this summer, at about the two-thirds point of a five-mile run. They were outside for a morning constitutional, and Malinka woofed a deep, friendly greeting. (Malinka is "bilingual," although she understands the language of her native country best; a wagging tail, though, needs no translation.) Since then, we have made a regular habit of short, 10- or 15-minute conversations for Adele and me, and a little company for Malinka, before I set out again.
These interludes have changed my routine that, in the past, could not be interrupted. Although not competitive, I am a committed runner; I do eight- and 10-mile runs regularly and last summer completed my first half-marathon with a respectable time (two hours, 14 minutes). Taking a break and talking are not part of the plan.
And yet, there is just something about Malinka that compelled me to stop, not just once, but every time I see her and Adele (and, occasionally, Adele's husband). Most of the time, Malinka is resting; she's not the spunky pup she once was. But the day I saw Malinka walking down the sidewalk, her panting mouth drawn into what could only be described as a wide smile, she looked as if she were running the Iditarod--or maybe the Boston Marathon. She was slow and didn't get far, but it was the effort and the joy in doing that mattered.
Malinka is the mistress of the moment: When the weather is good and the air smells sweet, there just might be something interesting at the end of one's nose to investigate. As a writer, I appreciate the reminder that inspiration can be found anywhere, but I have to take the time to notice. Wise one, that Malinka.
And so an old dog taught me that it's never too late to learn how to live a good life. Click on the slideshow to learn Malinka's new tricks.
You never know what the next trip outside might bring. We all know the cliché that it’s not the destination that matters--and maybe not even the journey. It's all about the interesting stops (to see and sniff) along the way.
Nature teaches us constantly. Even the cyclical seasons remind us that we can loop back and start again, with fresh insights, new information, and greater compassion for ourselves and others. Detours are most definitely allowed.
Dogs, like humans, live in packs. We call them communities, whether the physical locales of our neighborhoods or a social networking group. In the pack/community we are embraced and nourished (and occasionally get a drink from the garden hose).
We can text, blog, and tweet to our heart’s content, but not at the expense of real conversation. In our short talks, Adele and I have discussed the weather, employment and the economy, mid-life challenges and opportunities, and, of course, Malinka, and her wisdom.
You just never know when a friend is going to come along. Adele and I only meet in the context of my daily runs, and yet I would count her as a friend, someone who interacts with me on my journey (quite literally). We have Malinka to thank for that.
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