My boxer dog Bella and I went for a walk in the woods. We do that at least one day a week—rain or less rain, for those are our choices here in this convergence zone in Mukilteo. I wore a backpack laden with cat litter for weight so that I could get a bit of a work out. Bella was burdened with nothing.
As we made our way into the gulch and when I felt comfortable that we were far enough away from the road, I let her off the leash. She took off in a blur like she was shot out of a cannon. When she ran about a hundred yards ahead, she turned and lunged back towards me, low to the ground, front paws straining for as much ground as she could grab. Can dogs smile? I am almost certain they can. Tongue flowing like a heavy red ribbon out of one side of her mouth she gobbled up the ground between us until we came together then she blew past me another fifty yards. Back she came, grinning the whole way.
She bounced like a rabbit then she smelled something and chased the scent as if it were her last meal. Quickly she lost interest in the scent or got distracted by the movement of a bough from the breeze and changed her direction. She glanced back to me as if she needed my approval and off she went again on her imaginary hunt. Shortly she came galloping back down the trail to me and over shot me again by many yards. Such joy I have rarely seen; simple joy at being free, unfettered and with her master.
She danced, tumbled and chased phantom prey and ran with that tongue flowing like the scarf of a bi-plane pilot. Through puddles, mud, brambles and painful stones under her feet, she never winced but just ran and leapt and scooted and at times she looked like a bouncing red ball. Tirelessly she ran.
I thought she can’t keep up this pace for much longer. But she did and her tongue got longer and longer. I walked for an hour and a half. She ran and danced all the way.
I wondered that day if I feel anything close to what my dog felt at being unleashed, free, and in the wild? What is present in my world that causes my heart to leap if not my feet? Am I too old for that kind of giddiness? Have I grown too jaded? Am I not positioning myself for joy. Does joy diminish with age or does it mature? Can giddiness morph into a quiet savoring delight?
I remember certain foods as a child did not taste good to me. Cheese cake comes to mind. The thought of cheese and cake together was gross. (Of course I was thinking Velveeta.) Offer an 8 year-old a hot dog or a filet mignon and see which one he chooses.
Is it possible that as we grow and mature that we still experience the intensity of the joy of youth but tend to savor it rather than gulp it? I wonder if the energy of joy, which is quite powerful, goes inward rather than outward as we age. Maybe the joy of youth can eventually be siphoned off in a moment of frenetic expression but the joy of maturity seeps deep into our soul and reservoirs there for times of great need.
“And do not be grieved, the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
Grieved—joy—strength: words heavy with meaning. The longer I live the more I experience all three. And the anchor of all three is not a word but a person “the Lord.” The person of Jesus.
I am not too worried that I don’t get silly with delight. I am sipping it.