It is Tuesday morning, and I have set out for my weekly walk from my Capitol Hill home to the UW campus, today crossing the Montlake bridge, returning via the University bridge. For many years, I stopped first at my son-in-law’s home to fetch my grand-dog, Harper, a taffy-colored golden retriever, who loved people even more than other dogs. At the moment, I am walking up the south part of campus, the University Hospital behind me, and am heading toward “Frosh Pond” officially Drumheller Fountain. (In past years, did upper classmen really toss freshmen into the pond?) The fountain is high as it is able to go, and I imagine it carrying me up toward the heavens with it. Up toward the heavens has a special meaning for me now, because I am walking alone. Harper had a stroke this summer; she has gone to wherever pets go after serving a life of loving humans and receiving love from us in return. As I walk across this lower grassy lawn usually populated heavily by honking geese, I remember pulling aggressively at Harper‘s leash to keep her next to me instead of pursuing– not the geese, but goose poop– which was like toffee candy to Harper. This morning all is quiet, and I wonder by this vacant lawn if someone from the University has chased off the geese because tomorrow is the first day of classes for fall quarter, and everything has to be pristine, that is, sans goose poop. Reaching the shrubs around the pond I have my answer. An enormous Swensen’s hawk lands on the boxwood hedge, an imaginative hire by UW clean-up crew hoping to disperse ducks and geese.
Harper loved to walk through campus when the students were here, because they would often come up to ask my permission to pet my dog. No doubt, that touch reminded them of a dog back home whom they dearly missed. As I said, golden retrievers, love people even more than other dogs, so Harper lapped up the attention of the students even more than savoring goose poop on the green lawn below the fountain.
Now walking alone and thinking of Harper, each particular place holds a memory of our friendship. When we walked across from the University Hospital to lower campus, we would always pause while I took out a doggy treat for her. It only took doing so twice before Harper realized this should be a ritual with all the expectation of a birthday or Christmas. Harper obediently sat down by a bench after crossing Pacific Avenue and would not move until I offered the treat. Curses to me if I had none left in my pocket. I feel treat crumbs in that pocket even today..
Memories can lean heavily on our hearts when we miss someone we love. Today I realize that muscles help with heavy things, and one of our strongest muscles is the heart. One of the most resilient muscles, the heart can hold a lot of weight, especially if assisted by memory and the mind.
I am now at the age where many of those I have loved are dying. With a kind of dark humor, I told my husband that it seemed as if every weekend used to be a baby or a wedding shower. Now it is a memorial service. Even for those friends who have not left the earth, I am aware of their mortality, as well as my own. We have couples friends where one is near death, and we ask how the other can carry a full life forward. The weight will be held not with biceps, but with that strong muscle of the heart. The gift of the mind lives alongside the heart and helps us remember at the same time we grieve a loved one, even a beloved pet.
I chuckle in April, as we are preparing our tax forms and decrying how high the taxes seem to be this year. Soon, my husband always turns to me and says, “I don’t mind paying taxes. It means that we made a profit this year.” Perhaps there is a connection here that we can embrace loss knowing that life has been a profitable investment. Even last month when I received a text from my twenty-year-old grandson, telling me that Harper would like me to come over and say goodbye, I petted Harper and offered her a treat that she declined. Then I held in my grandmother arms, my grandson, almost a foot taller than I am, while we wept together. This too is a treasured memory that I am walking with today as I continue on a familiar path back up Capitol Hill to my home.