For a moment, the steps grow faster, the leash tighter.
“Holmes, wait.” We stop until the lead slackens. “Good boy. Ok, let’s come.”
A fenced-in dog challenges us, creating a short pause. A neighbor across the street draws some barks. It’s not a perfect run yet , especially when rabbits – the ultimate temptation – cross our path. But it’s already so much easier than it was.
Step by step, Holmes is learning.
If you’re only just joining us, Holmes is the latest addition to Chez Rochat, a one-year-old mixed breed with a boatload of smarts and Way Too Much Energy™. As a result, we’ve been throwing more Frisbees than a California beach, filling up food puzzles with the efficiency of a North Pole assembly line, and even trying to teach him how to calm down when needed, something my wife Heather calls “doggy Zen.”
And of course, there are walks. Followed by walks. And more walks.
Of the three dogs we’ve owned, Holmes is already the walking champ for sheer frequency. But he’s also new, stepping out with a mixture of curiosity, enthusiasm and anxiety about what he’ll find … and still learning which situations merit concern. (“Hey! Hey! That man getting into his car is VERY SUSPICIOUS! I mean, who does that?”)
I follow and guide with treats and patience and a slightly sore shoulder. Which means that as Holmes learns the world and how to behave in it, I’m learning Holmes at the same time.
Isn’t that always the way of it?
Everyone has a story and a struggle. Part of being human – or at least, a better kind of human – is to be aware of those stories and struggles even as we’re dealing with our own. It’s why almost every faith and philosophy on the planet has some variation of love your neighbor, help the stranger, reach out and touch someone … wait, that last one might have been AT&T.
The point remains: we’re here to help. But as some have pointed out, that’s not a one-sided proposition where help simply descends on someone like Batman from a skylight. When we teach, we learn. When we see into someone’s heart, our own is opened a little wider. Just like a handshake, you can’t touch without being touched in return.
That can be a little frightening. Not just in the responsibility it gives us for others, but in the possibility – no, certainty – that what we do will change ourselves in ways we don’t expect. It’s a reminder that we’re not really in control, a lesson that few of us enjoy learning. (If you’ve ever stepped on a phantom brake while in the passenger seat of a car, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)
But it’s also an exciting lesson, too. It means that no single one of us has to have all the answers or plug all the holes. It means there’s room for surprise and discovery. Most of all, it means that all of us need all of us, and that together, we can shape something pretty amazing.
Even in something as small as a morning or evening walk.
Reach out. Walk together. Look around. You might just find yourself on a path you never knew existed.
One warning, though. If that path has rabbits, you’d better keep a firm grip on the leash.