The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Just as I remember them.
I spent yesterday driving and I owe tomorrow to the road. But before I pay that debt I have these precious moments alone.
Penny and Zero are with me, but I have always considered my dogs a part of myself. The nameless part I can never share with another person. Not because I lack the will, but because in any attempt to translate it – through word or deed – its truth is lost.
So I silently share this truth with my dogs as we stand in the rain and look down the path leading into the trees. I am here in search of ghosts, but not the Revolutionary War specters many say walk these woods. I am here to commune with a boy and his puppy.
I gather myself, dogs and all, and run into the darkness.
The world has changed. But we already know that. It is a fact the despondent and the nostalgic both wistfully demand we remember. While I agree with the sentiment, I believe the familiar phrase uses the wrong tense.
The world is change. Not, “Everything happens for a reason.” Just, “Everything happens.” As I run along the path, Penny and Zero weaving through the trees, I think about finding my purpose in that constant change.
There is no better person to consider that purpose than myself. Not the self I am now, but the one I was then. When Eko and I ran these woods together. Here, in this familiar solitude, I find it easiest to see and speak to him
He runs ahead of me, while his puppy joyfully bounds circles around him. They play in a tight orbit with all the unencumbered enthusiasm of youth. He will never hear me, but it’s important I tell him what’s to come.
“You will go on a great adventure,” I say. “You and that four-legged heart of yours will swim in one ocean and then head west until you swim in the other one. You will forge a new home and a better life away from the comfort of these woods. You will marry an incredible woman and your wedding rings will be carried by the same dog who carried you across the country.”
“You will have a son. You will wrap him in the same blanket you first wrapped that puppy in. The love you share will be compounded in ways you cannot yet understand. On a rainy day, years from now, you will return to these woods with two dogs and run again. You will be me.”
Penny and Zero gallop past. A reminder I must share the full truth.
“Your puppy will not be here. He will not live to meet your son. You will pour yourself into your dog, discover yourself through him, and you will lose him. You will lose yourself. The person you are will be gone. You will learn to face your fears, name them, and love them. The person you find will be me. It’s not fair, but the world is not fair. The world is change.”
I pause to watch Penny and Zero wrestle in a clearing. If I close my eyes I see a third dog playing in the space between them. I smile. Happy to discover myself finding new joy in these old woods. Happy to have spoken with the boy. Happy he did not hear a word of it.
My joys and sorrows are not his. Not yet. Even if I could tell him everything I would not. To deprive him of the discovery would be to deprive him of his search for purpose and direction amidst the seas of change.
The boy and his puppy bound deeper into the woods and it is here we must part. It hurts, but I can protect him no more than he can protect me. We each have our journey, and we are each lucky to have our dogs to go with us to the places in our hearts where no person may follow.
Penny, Zero and I emerge from the woods panting from exertion. The rising steam from our breath depositing the memory of our run into the fog. A new set of ghosts we may run with another day.
As we walk back the rain cleanses the tears from my face, just as the mud from the trail cleansed the guilt from my soul.
I load the dogs into the car and sit beside them in quiet company. The windows fog over, the rain intensifies, and for a few minutes we share this small refuge. I haven’t spoken a word since we arrived, but I have said everything I need to. I am at peace.
But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep.
I start the car, returning to the world of change and the constant search for purpose within it. I hug myself – one dog in each arm – and receive two wet kisses in return. I drive through the fog, just barely able to see ahead.
I do not know what I will discover when I leave these woods. And that is why I must leave them. Thankfully – now, then and always – I do not travel alone.