"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." --The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Brandi had a seizure last week. It was late afternoon, following a day of record snowfall for the region. I accompanied the dogs on what seemed to be a regular potty trip outside and videotaped as Iko and Brandi wrestled and played in the nearly two feet of snow. I followed Iko as she romped to the deck and then back to Brandi under the tree. It was then that I noticed Brandi on her side in the snow and struggling to get up. I ran immediately to her and found her motionless and face-down in the snow, completely limp and unresponsive. I feared the worst as I scooped her body up into my arms and ran with her to the house. Never before in the more than 12 years I have known Brandi have I ever touched her and not felt her tense her powerful muscles, even while she was sleeping. She was as soft and pliable as a rag doll and felt just as weightless. Save her deep, guttural breathing, she appeared to be lifeless. By the time we reached the deck, though, her head began to move, and she turned to look into my face. She quickly regained her footing as I gently put her down in the breezeway, then gingerly entered the house, laid down and slept deeply and soundly as I watched her like a hawk.
In the days since, I've kept a close watch over Brandi, and I've tried to keep Iko from jumping all over her obviously older and more feeble sister. I worry about her when she goes out into the snow, and I have definitely spoiled her when it comes to treats and the usually forbidden ingestion of "people food." Brandi, meanwhile, goes on being Brandi. She isn't afraid of the snow, and she still greets Iko's enthusiasm with her own form of reciprocated play. She gets excited about trips in the car and equally as excited about trips that merely end at the car. Less than two days after her near-death experience, she even successfully descended the stairs from the bedroom to the living room in the pitch black darkness of the pre-dawn. To appreciate this feat, you must be familiar with her normal state of functioning. With her worsening eyesight and increasingly poor coordination, Brandi frequently falls down the staircase, sometimes even leaping from the fifth or sixth stair up over the shadows cast by the wall and landing in a heap against the front door, flat on her belly with all four limbs jumbled up under her or splayed out in each direction, much like a fawn struggling on an icy pond.
We had left the bedroom door open a crack to allow the cats to leave during the night so that I wouldn't have to wake up at their 2:00 am meows to let them out. This change in procedure must have appeared to Brandi as the perfect opportunity to exercise her independence. I heard her toenails clicking on the wood floor, but I assumed that she would lie back down as she always does. Instead, I then heard the clicking of her nails retreat to the hall and then down the stairs. I braced for the inevitable crash, but heard only the rhythmic and regular cadence of her steps. My surprise at her success prompted me up and out of the bed even more quickly than a fall might have. I ran down after her and found her nonchalantly walking to the basement door to retrieve the other dogs. Business as usual.
Dogs have such an amazing ability to live life in the present. They are blessed with either a very short memory or a very forgiving attitude--or maybe a wonderful combination of the two. Brandi didn't know that she was "supposed to be" weak or unsteady. She didn't comprehend that having a seizure on Wednesday would make walking down the stairs alone and in the dark on Friday morning a risky maneuver. She doesn't realize that she's old, possibly unhealthy, or definitely compromised. All that she knows is that when she wants to go out, she wants to go out. She enjoys a good scratch on the rump any time, and her favorite treats are the marrow bone-type that we get in bulk at the pet store. She likes to be close to people, even if she doesn't like to be hugged or handled. She tolerates having her toenails clipped and insists on visible proof of the need for ear cleaning (I actually have to show her the wax on the Q-tip!). Brandi isn't afraid of anything or anyone. She doesn't carry a grudge, and she doesn't discriminate. She approaches life just as she does a flight of stairs. She simply puts one foot in front of the other and hopes for the best.
So, it is to Brandi that I now look for inspiration as my life's path is changing direction. I stand at the top of the staircase, where I can see only the two steps in front of me, knowing that turning back is not an option. I must walk on in confidence and with faith that the next step will be there, even when I can't see it. If I look over my shoulder, I may lose my balance and fall. If the steps are obscured by the shadows of uncertainty, I can decide to leap into the dark unknown. In any case, I will end up at the bottom of the stairs, whether on my two feet or on my knees, I will arrive there--exactly where I am supposed to be.