For the past few years, I’ve prepared the same two Thanksgiving favorites: a batch of hot spiced cider and a colorful fruit and cheese platter. The cider mulls in the crockpot for several hours, glorifying the house with its perfume of cloves, oranges, cinnamon, ginger, and cranberries. The cheese platter usually consists of fresh blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries, surrounded by neat piles of crackers and cubed cheddar. In one corner of the oval platter rests a petite wheel of brie with a discreet triangle already removed; I cut the first slice so that the wheel looks more inviting.
While waiting for the forthcoming meal, ravenous family members amble through the kitchen, comforting themselves with hot cider, creamy brie, and cold fruit. We ladle the cider into coffee cups and mix in a little apple brandy. We wander past the pans of cornbread dressing and sweet potatoes, the plate of warm dinner rolls. I listen for the sounds of Dad’s carving knife and begin a slow, nonchalant stroll toward the kitchen – arriving just in time to sneak a sample of turkey.
As I mentally pack my canvas bags with the necessary ingredients for tomorrow’s festivities, I must add some new items to my list. A water bowl, a nylabone…In my mind, I am moving items from my backpack to my grocery bag. This imaginary exercise assures that I won’t forget any essentials. Tomorrow, York and I will celebrate our first Thanksgiving together, and he won’t feel very festive if I forget his food.
In addition to its national flavor, tomorrow marks a special day for York and me – Match Day. Five months ago on June 27, I accepted York into my life, and I’m delighted that our Match Day aligns with a feast of gratitude.
On June 27, I was completing my first week of training at guide dog school, away from home and among new friends. York and I had known each other for 3 days – a period of emotional upheaval. He was standoffish. I was desperate. But a few days’ work in harness showed me that York deserved my faith – and I cannot now remember which came first, my trust in him or his respect for me. Either way, the new feelings conquered the old, and without anxiety, I told my trainer that I wanted York: I couldn’t imagine working with any other dog.
These five months with York have taught me to appreciate strange, tiny experiences. To say that York is helping me find a new freedom sounds so bland when I relive the thrills of our movement together.
When I traveled with a cane, I chose familiar routes – away from crowds, sunlight, or random tables and golf carts. If the light or the crowd shifted, I had to slow down, regroup, and search for another way to my destination. My mental plan was an exercise in troubleshooting and error-spotting, the slightest change throwing my brain’s navigational systems into overdrive.
When York guides me, I can seek out sunlight; I can watch it slide sloppily over indiscernible shapes that might be trees or people or bicycles. If my path is blocked by a yellow caution sign, a poorly parked golf cart, or a cluster of students, York finds a way forward. And because he is more mischievous than compliant, he usually chooses the most improbable path – just to prove he can get me through tight spaces.
I realize how much York is changing me not in large, dramatic moments, but in small snatches of experience – the walk through the sun-bleached courtyard, the narrow escape from the ribbon-line in the coffee shop, the quick swerve past the standing “Wet Floor” placard. If I’m not paying attention, these momentary adventures slip out of the world of words and into the ether.
But I can remember how the caution placards used to catch my cane and crash to the floor. I can remember how rarely I ventured beyond my familiar routes. I never thought of myself as an explorer because I never wanted to explore.
So today and tomorrow – and for the rest of my life – I will thank York for waking me up, for helping me transform myself. I will thank him for the unexpected warmth he has kindled, the love he asks of me. I will thank him for the silliness, the puppy talk, the nighttime cuddles and ear rubs – all signs of a softness that he trusts.
I will thank York for walking and working beside me, for matching my pace and pulling me forward.