When I was in the fourth grade my father’s job was transferred from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh. With the move my father decided to give away our border collie, Laddie. From his perspective, he wanted our dog to have a better life. Urban clutter? Or rural freedom? So, he deposited our dog at a ranch 40 miles east of Los Angeles. Horses. Cattle. Chickens. Kids. Open fields framed by fences. What could be better, right?
Within 24 hours, our dog escaped. Jumped the fence? Squeezed beneath some gate? Who knows? But he was suddenly lost with 40 miles between the ranch and home. For the first 15 miles it was open countryside with windy, dusty roads. For the last 25 miles there were freeways, congested traffic, a few hundred thousand people, and no safe haven. Worse, there were plenty of police, ready to scoop up a mutt and cart the beast to the local animal shelter.
We had little hope. Our dog did not have a collar tag. He had only ridden in the back seat for the single drive, head down and apprehensive. But guess what happened? On day 15, he showed up at my school. Dirty, a little bloody, and lot skinnier. You thought I was happy for recess? You should have seen me that day! Better yet, my dad reversed his decision. We decided to keep that dog, and over the years he moved with us from Pittsburgh to Louisville to Chicago, finally dying in our back yard – home sweet home.
So, what’s the message of this story? As we grow older, many of us will need to let go of certain things to make room for new things. You cannot redesign your life, and add new activities to your plate, without scooping something off your plate. But relationships are one of those things that should not be shoved aside. Just the opposite. We all need to be vigilant to make certain that our relationships do not simply slip away.
Some experts say that loneliness kills more people than cigarettes. Certainly, our solo living percentage has jumped from a long-standing 9% to a current 28%. So, my point? We don’t want lost dogs or lost souls. Hold onto to your loved ones. Stretch out your hand to your friends. Clutch your pets even closer. Maybe even establish a wider group of new friends? Or perhaps even join a community?
As Emily Dickinson said: “My friends are my estate.”