With the uncertain, bow-legged steps of a drunk cowboy, Lincoln teetered across the grass towards me. I waited with open-arms under a tree, my heart wavering in rhythm with each one of his steps. I willed him to make it the final few feet into my arms, but he fell short.
Link didn’t seem to mind. He laughed and rolled the last yard to where I sat. He rose with a triumphant smile, covered in sticks. The dogs gave him a victor’s welcome, complete with a massive kiss from Zero.
Who am I to say this joyful boy fell short?
The impulse to quantify, qualify and order life is a persistent one. We track milestones, record progress and check boxes.
So when people asked, “Is Lincoln walking yet?” I was eager to say yes. As if that answer somehow offered meaningful validation for either of us. But sitting under the tree I realized how much more that goofy, dirt covered smile meant to me than any of the steps which preceded it.
The journey is more important than the destination. I know this. I know I know this. But I forget this – all the time. As I watched Lincoln push off my knee for another attempt at bipedal locomotion, it seemed fitting I always remember to savor the journey when I’m out on a walk.
As usual, I can’t claim credit. The walks are contractually obligated by Zero and Penny under penalty of over dramatic whining if I dally for even a moment. My dogs remind that me that walking is an activity worthy of enthusiastic reverence.
Walks are procedural necessities in the winter, but with the warming weather we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy them as wandering meditations. I lash Lincoln to my back, leash up the pups and head out. I pick a direction but never a destination. Because the question is not, “Are we there yet?” It’s “Are we here yet?”
I search for the answer in my steps and the spaces between them. I am beset on all sides by the pull of those “Are we there yet?” questions. Responsibilities and deadlines, each threatening to pull me away from the here and now. Fortunately, I am steadied on the tightrope of the present moment by a dog on either side.
I also keep my balance by talking to Lincoln. “It’s a beautiful day out. I’m glad we all get to enjoy together,” I say.
The boon of those with pets or children is we can talk to ourselves aloud without judgment. If someone saw me walking alone and I said, “It’s a beautiful day out, I’m glad I get to go for a walk,” I’m pretty sure I’d be given a wide berth. But when people hear me talking to Lincoln and the pups it always elicits a wide smile.
This is the other secret joy. Every smile given to your child or pet is one you get to share. And a twelve legged, four-armed creature such as us is luck enough to gather plenty of smiles along the way. Each small kindness anchoring us to the present moment.
On a walk about a week after Link stumbled under one tree, we stopped to rest at another. Both destinations I can’t remember and couldn’t find again. The dogs lay in the shade and once more watched Lincoln wobble towards me. This time he didn’t fall.
Link dove into my arms with a laugh. His smile was slightly cleaner, but it was no more valuable to me for his accomplishment. The joy was, is and remains sharing those smiles together.
I thought again of the question, “Is Lincoln walking yet?”
Yes, he is. But I know the better question to always ask myself as a parent might be, “Is Lincoln walking, still?” In a forward-looking world, can he keep his gaze in the present? Can he savor experiences not for where they get him or what they accomplish, but simply for what they are?
It’s not a question with a finite answer. But with practice, and perhaps the help of a dog, I know you can hold fast to one small part of infinity and claim it – if only for a moment – as your own.
There will be time enough to teach him. For now, I do my best to show him. One step (and two dogs) at a time.