I wish I could say I had some sassy, critical anecdote to report. It would be better that way. I wish I were feeling contrary or daring. But right now all I really can do is notice how things grow old.
I found out a few days back that the dog I’ve had since seventh grade is in kidney failure. The vet’s ultrasound revealed even more extensive liver nodules and pancreatic dysfunction. And although I dedicate this column to my dear Penny, it isn’t meant to be a sob story of how my dog is dying. No, she would never have that.
Instead, she would rather I focus on things I’ve learned this fall that she’s always known and lived.
I have learned that if you keep your nose too buried in new worlds, you just might open your eyes to an old world grown older. This summer was just that for me. My new world was the little lakeside town of Muhuru Bay. The world grown older was my lifelong home on Palm Road.
Now, each time I go home, I see the nuances once left unnoticed. I note the creases, deepening furrows, as my father smiles. I watch as my silver tabby gains five pounds and a slower gait. I enter my childhood room, everything unnaturally immaculate. This academic award here, my blankie there, a shelf of all my most favorite high school reads. Here, on Palm Road these days Natalie’s orange juice tastes sweeter—goodbyes sourer—and each airplane ride back to Duke leaves me wondering, what next? I cannot bear these new, all-too-literal days of old.
I almost wish I did not wonder. How sweet it would be to not be tormented by memories and expectation. How desperately I yearn for ignorance. Where oh where have you gone, dearest days of old?
I couldn’t tell you. But my sweet, nearly blind, all but deaf, ginger cocker spaniel could.
I couldn’t tell you because ours is a species of deep thought and careful reflection, of studying history and of preserving the past in the muddled reservoirs of our minds.
Oh, but Penny could. Because to Penny, these dearest days of old are irrelevant. It is this moment, this moment of chasing seagulls on a strip of sand, fuzzy ears tapping the rippled sand every half step, this moment of an afternoon snooze in the flower bed. This chase after crazy, impossible dreams. This, this, yes this is what matters.
You see, at the beginning of this year, I felt very lost. I was out of touch with the moment, swimming in questions of identity and meaning. I was on my way to everything I’d ever wanted and yet felt horribly unsettled.
I very nearly didn’t come back to school this semester. I very desperately longed for closeness to my family and clarity. I wanted time to genuinely commit to a wholer self. I wanted more liberty to live as Penny does—freely.
I made up every excuse for myself. “I’ve been through a lot. This summer was emotionally taxing. My water grate fall was traumatic. Duke maybe wasn’t the right choice.”
But all these were just that—excuses.
What I realized then, in that most uncertain of Augusts, was that I was devising excuses, tallying worries, drafting and checking off lists and making few and far between countings of blessings.
So I started a journal. I began meditating every day before bed. I found answers in silence, in moments, in relinquishing the past as gone. I found strength in coming to terms with the days of old.
To watch the sunrise is not to discount the beauty of yesterday’s sunset. It is only to appreciate the quiet promise of a new day.
To value inner peace is not to cast away discipline and productivity. It is only to recognize that we are people above producers.
So from this fall forward I vow to live as Penny has—moment-to-moment, footprint- to-footprint. Chasing birds, chasing dreams, loving loved ones with a smile as they enter through my door. So from this fall forward I vow to embrace these new days of old.
Gracie Willert is a Trinity senior. Her biweekly column runs every other Monday.
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