My babies are senior citizens. At 10 & 12 years old, my once tireless running partners no longer run as fast or as far as they used to. They sleep a lot more now. One has arthritis, the other has cancer. But they’re still my babies.
It’s a funny thing when you think too much about it (as I have the last few months). One day you bring home a rowdy little ball of fluff, all too-big paws & too-big ears, & you set about showing it the ropes of the world – how to have manners around people & other dogs, how to sit & shake & speak, how to run on a leash & not cause everyone to tangle up & fall on their face. But then you blink, & a decade or so is suddenly gone. That little puppy has somehow raced past you & now sits at the opposite side of their lifespan, a wise old sage from whom you could probably learn a thing or two.
And from those years together, a richness & depth has come to your relationship. Routines & mannerisms are worn-in & comfortable & all the more beautiful for being so. You know your dog’s every expression, what every bark means. You’ve seen their silly dinner time dance thousands of times, but it still makes you laugh every time. An old dog is more settled, more ready to just BE with you (especially if you can quiet your monkey brain long enough to just be in the moment with them in return). In my humble opinion, an old dog is the best companion a person could ask for.
Have you ever seen anyone shake their head upon picking up a old book & say, “Ol’ Huck Finn’s been a good book, but he’s gettin’ on in years. I think it’s time to put ‘im in the recycling. We’ll tell the kids we sent ‘im to live at the book farm, & then we’ll get ’em a brand new copy to make ’em feel better”?
Of course not. Nobody says that. We don’t think of old books the way we think about old dogs.
Old books have magic about them that is not diminished by countless readings. You feel it instinctively when you hold one in your hands. Worn edges & cracked spines are not signs of book senescence but of worth. That’s half the fun of going to a used book store – the chance that hidden behind the stacks of Louis L’amore & Nora Roberts mass market paperbacks, you might find something really special & unique. There’s nothing wrong with owning that same blue-covered copy of The Great Gatsby that everyone else has, but if I happen to come across a dusty, 50 year-old forgotten copy that I can bring home to be loved, all the better. Call me a book hipster if you like. It’s probably a fair criticism.
Even more precious, however, are the books you’ve had for years – the ones you’ve built a relationship with.
As tends to be the case with all things childhood, we often don’t know what we have until it’s gone. Eager to put childish things behind me as I got older, I told my parents I didn’t want my books anymore, so they were donated. All The Boxcar Children books & The Black Stallion books I had read religiously, as well as my picture books & other grade-school books, had to go so I could make room for more mature titles like Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.
But the one that I kept, & still keep today, was a copy of Black Beauty given to me for Christmas by my grandparents when I was 8 years old. I was a horse-crazy child (see The Black Stallion reference above), so I read it & re-read it almost to the point of memorization. These days it shows the wear & tear of all those read-throughs, as well as signs of having been in a child’s possession (what is that orange smudge on the title?), but I’d no sooner get rid of it than I’d get rid of my grandparents’ portrait. It is old, it is a piece of me, & I love it.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with newness & youth. It is what it is, & it’s not always bad. But if we can also learn to appreciate the beauty of an old book, as well as the incalculable treasure that is an old dog, the world just might turn out okay after all.
P.S. Do you love old books & old dogs? Want to hear more from a person who also loves old books & old dogs? Subscribe to this blog and/or follow me on Twitter & Instagram!
P.P.S. Happy National Dog Week!