Lynda had begun to question whether she had been given more than she could bear. In just a few short years she had lost her mother, her sister, and her grandmother. Lately, she feared she was losing her grip on her desperate attempt to hold her life together.
Lynda poured a third cup of coffee, but even caffeine had lost its effect. Instead, she wandered into her bedroom and contemplated crawling back into bed. On the floor next to her bed were her tennis shoes. Glancing between the two, she knew she had a choice to make. She could succumb to the depths of her depression, or she could try to climb her way out.
Exhausted after her first walk, she barely made it around the block. That night she set her shoes next to her bed, knowing in the morning she would have to make that same choice all over again.
At first she stayed close to home, but eventually she ventured farther and farther away. Leaving her neighborhood one morning, she passed the animal shelter in town. A sign outside grabbed her attention: “Volunteer Walkers Needed.”
Lynda poked her head inside the door; half hoping no one would be there. Instead, she was greeted with a hearty hello by an older woman whose hair was the color of orange sherbet. A patchwork colored cat with similar coloring was perched on top of the reception desk.
“I …saw your sign—for volunteers.”
“Awesome! You just have to sign um out and back in again.”
“Well, I do have a volunteer form I could dig out of one of these files here, or you could just promise to bring the dog back.”
Lynda couldn’t tell if the woman was kidding or serious. “I’ll just bring it back.”
Smiling, she gestured toward a door. “You can take out any of the dogs in that room. Just grab a leash and take your pick!”
While Lynda was trying to decide which one to pick, a midsized mixed breed barked as if to say “Pick me!”
She unlatched the chain-link gate. “Okay, let’s go.”
The dog pushed Lynda beyond her limit. The next morning she was so sore she could hardly get out of bed, but the pain from her screaming thighs distracted her from the anguish she felt inside. She pulled on her waking shoes and headed straight for the shelter.
Most mornings when Lynda passed by the nursing home there were no signs of life, so she was caught off guard when an elderly woman called out.
“Good morning.” Lynda waved and almost lost her grip on the leash as the dog jerked toward the old woman. With two hands, Lynda pulled back and continued walking.
“That’s a mighty handsome dog you have there.”
“Thanks.” Lynda struggled to control the dog, but he was determined to visit the old woman. I guess I could stop for a minute.
When the dog dropped his chin in the woman’s lap, she set her cane aside and stroked his floppy ears. She smiled down at the dog, his expression seeming to mimic hers. Lynda noticed as the woman’s white cotton hair caught the sunlight, and she was struck by its beauty.
Over the next several weeks, other residents began to sit outside, waiting to scratch a dog’s belly or be granted a few licks. Most never stayed long, except for Shirley, and Lynda looked forward to their visits. Lynda began to shed her grief over time, telling Shirley of the losses she had endured.
“Shirley, you always know just the right thing to say. You have a gift of …”
Shirley interrupted Lynda. “I have to tell you something, dear.”
Lynda’s heart pounded; her knee jerk reaction to uncertain news.
“I didn’t used to sit outside in the morning. I used to sit by the window in my room, mostly feeling sorry for myself. Then one morning, I looked outside and saw you walking a dog. I had noticed you before, but this time I saw that you were crying. So the next morning I was waiting for you.”
“You were waiting for me?”
“Yes. You see, for many years I worked as a counselor, often helping those who were suffering from grief, just like you.”
Relieved, Lynda laughed. “Well, you certainly haven’t lost your touch. I must owe you a fortune.”
Shirley grinned. “Don’t worry, honey. That was a long time ago. Nowadays, I just volunteer.”
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