The flat slap of the tennis ball marked the intervals of our progress along the beach. I throw and Tobey retrieves in a continuous loop repeated again and again till we reach the beginning of the dirt track at the far end. It’s the first day of September, the time of the year which often has a melancholic air for me.
As I pull away from the house this morning I notice the fallen leaves on the grass, some blotched yellow and brown, some dark brown or a sad grey. CJ is in the back seat in his school uniform with a full to over-flowing bag beside him. The freedom of the summer is gone and the restraints of order now tie him down, but he’s excited nonetheless at the prospect of seeing friends again and the novelty of change, which never seems to faze him.
In just a few moments I will hand him over to another adult, who I don’t know, to look after him till the middle of the afternoon on this the first day of a pressured school year. Later, as I walk along the beach and the silence settles around me, I miss his shouts and cries whilst chasing the dog and the ball. This is the first time in a while I’ve done this walk without CJ and I miss him.
All along the track the signs of the passing season are visible, gone is the glorious yellow gorse of high summer, gone too the bishop’s purple of the thistles.In their place the pea pods and the seed heads hold in them the promise of new life; but not before the winter. Here too are the bloated wild blackberries which in a couple of days we will pick to make the jelly which will preserve the richness of the season for the middle of winter.
The dog walks with a slight limp and I’m not sure whether this is an injury recently sustained, or the signs of aging, arthritic joints. With something akin to distress I contemplate the emotional state of our home when Tobey goes in some coming winter day. We’ll miss him.
I meet a woman in the car park at the end of our walk. With a small child beside her she heads straight for Tobey and speaks affectionately to him. She tells me the story of her chocolate labrador. Only 18 months old when he went and she is still hobbled by real grief.
Autumn is coming and I walk with a limp too, like Jacob fleeing that place where he wrestled God. Mine is not a literal limp, not the dislocation of a socket, but the shaking loose of previous certainties. And the story is written in the scar drawn down the centre of my chest and in new certainties that are re-tooling faith for me to face this new season.
Jacob named the place Peniel, because there he had seen the face of God and had lived.
And having named that place, the scriptures record that the sun rose above him, as it always does, and he walked past that place, limping, but still moving.
Now there’s something with which to go on walking.