• Whitney Olson

The True Secret of Youth

In January of 2015, I said goodbye to my faithful dog, Mocha, after 14 years together. She helped me raise my children. I looked after her litter. We shared a fair amount of neurotic tendencies. I like to think I’ve moved past mine while Mocha held on to hers to the bitter end. The final months were hard and, in the end, her passing was a bit of a relief.

The floors were cleaner. The yard, well, you know. My home office, however, seemed lonely. I had lost an office mate and missed her presence. I solved the problem in the most logical way. I assessed the benefits of a simpler life, of guarding my heart against another loss, and of less housework. After much analysis, about three weeks worth, I took the next step towards healing. I adopted another dog.

I can hear your groans. Yes. We all know that one should never make big decisions after a loss. Yes. I was taking on a long-term commitment right when my youngest child was in her last year of high school. Yes. This would lead to infinitely more messes. All true. All lessons learned. And totally worth it.

I might have adopted a dog, but I also found the secret to youth. I’m not talking about lifelong friends or walks in the park or dedicated love. I’m referring to fist pumping victories, adrenaline rushes, and I’m cooler than you’ll ever be moments of youth that I thought had long ago turned to dust.

The secret of youth has nothing to do with water. Ponce de Leon had it wrong. The secret starts with a mutt in need of rescuing.

Adopting a mutt is not the cardboard box in front of the grocery store event or our youth. Today, applications must be submitted in advance. References are checked. Home visits are possible. This is a competitive process. Our application was submitted online to a local rescue agency in advance of the adoption event. They advertised a pup coming up for adoption that caught our eye. Fenced yard – check. Stable address – check. No youngsters – check. Financial stability – check.

When we arrived, we discovered thirteen families had applied for the same puppy. Game on! Scouring the crowd, I felt like I was back on the soccer pitch sizing up the competition at the start of the game. They were younger. They were green. They were nervous. No hand wringing for me. I walked up to the kennel, opened it up, and took out the dog. I had bravado, I had authority, and I had an application that might lead to future donations.

Walking to the car with the dog, I imagined myself as Kathy Bates in Fried Green

Tomatoes after the parking lot incident. Towanda! I walked taller. I might have sauntered. There may have been some swagger. I had won. A mutt. A mere $300 and we were on our way. Aging was in retrograde and the midlife sunset was reversing itself. I felt younger.

There are some elements about our life stages that are hard to avoid. We try to counter the evidence of aging with trophy wives, racy cars, surgical fixes, and spa weekends. Some of us, however, plod ahead with all of the baggage of a midlife firmly attached and easily seen. We are lumpy with age spots. We can’t see without glasses. We drive boring cars and listen to safe music with the windows rolled up. Looking and feeling cool for most of us is in the rear view mirror. Until the new dog.

Never have I felt as cool as I do when I have the dog in the backseat of the car with his head hanging out the window, enjoying every look and every smell. I laugh at the way his lips flap in the wind. A trip in the car is no longer simply a way to get someplace. Our windows are down and our minds are open to the world around us. Not one carefully quaffed, botoxed middle aged woman driving a flashy European import is even close to being as cool as I am when I have my dog in my boring, ubiquitous gray Altima hybrid. And feeling cool, my friends, is essential to feeling youthful.

Youthfulness is no longer lost. I’ve rediscovered adrenaline rushes of victory and my cool factor. Spending money on a mutt, I’ve invested in myself. In a way, most of us are mutts with limited pedigree and special needs waiting for someone to recognize that it's the spirit, not the packaging that counts the most.

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