The passage of time sneaks up on us. Sometimes it’s looking at the time after a fun dinner conversation and wondering how it got so late. Others, it’s looking up and noticing the date on the calendar with a new year behind it, and realizing it is an anniversary, another year, filled with moments and days that add up to 365 days.
This week marks seven years of Hank. Highs and lows and tons of in-betweens. He’s been there with me when it felt like it was all over, and when I wished it could last forever.
He doesn’t understand the constraints of finances or the fact that the seconds only tick forward, closer to our inevitable demise. He does know when I’m deeply sad or when we are giggly and giddy and doing zoomies to sprint the last hundred yards of a hike to the summit.
He views the world with a certain optimism, a gladness to see every stranger and a curious nose for every hole in a log.
We could measure life through the specific memories, the porcupine quills in the snoot, the pose on the hood of the truck at the Arctic Circle sign. The sleepless night cowboy camping on a beach near Malibu, Hank sprinting after every horseshoe crab that ventured through the moonlight near our little blanket.
Or we could sit still and breathe, meditate on the shared experience and what it’s been like – the baseline joy, the commitment to his best lived experience, how obvious it feels that he deserves all the good things in the world. How rarely that feels true for me. How many years it’s taken me to recognize that dichotomy, the roots of empathy, the tangled web of how we feel about ourselves and what we want for others.
So often, people want to be parents because they say it’s “rewarding.” They create new life to feel something positive about themselves. But every soul has its own dreams and its own pains, things we could never truly understand by placing our own expectations on other lives. I have done my best to see things differently, to give Hank the best life a being of his demeanor and desires could possibly have. To pay attention to things outside ourselves.
Isn’t that the goal?
Together, we rethink what is possible. When we met, seven years ago, he was a whirling ball of unbridled energy. Ready for everything, with so much alacrity that he would just about kick a door down because he was so ready to see what was on the other side. I was lost and very broken, recovering from a traumatic brain injury and a traumatic life experience – being hit by a car while riding my bicycle, watching all the values and hopes I’d inherited slowly crumble and lose meaning as my brain glitched on the coarse asphalt.
Together, we walked. I learned what situations Hank hadn’t encountered before, and which things elicited what responses. He learned to be patient with me as I toted my camera around, trying to make our urban walks a little more interesting, hoping to capture as many moments of our time together as possible.
We have done so many “epic” things, seen unreal sights, met unforgettable people. And we have shared so many hazy days, each one of them aging and shaping us a bit. In the moment, nothing feels all that different between now and then. But when I look at old photos, I see the ways we both have changed. Some days, people ask if Hank is a puppy. Others, they’re surprised he’s “only” eight. One day, we run to the tops of mountains. The next, he struggles to keep up on a casual mountain bike ride. Every day, he waits for me to finish my morning yogurt so he can lick the bowl clean.
Time touches all of us. It is inevitable. And yet, we get to choose what we make of that. It has not been an easy ride, but we have had a good time. Even that statement feels a bit surprising. A good time. In spite of it all. And because of it. As I sit scrolling through seven years worth of Hank photos, I find myself smiling at the beauty and the ridiculousness. I’m reminded of the times we set out on a hike and didn’t find what I was looking for. And how after ruminating on my own disappointment, I caught myself thinking that it didn’t matter to Hank. We spent time outside, together. Waterfall or no waterfall. Making it to the summit or turning around before we get there.