Walking with Terry

The following is an excerpt from the book Out on a Leash

Shirley: I love to walk. I've done so much rigorous exercise in order to stay in shape for dancing that I'm happy to take it slower in my advancing years. LSD walking, I call it: Long, Slow, Distance walking. I'm learning to allow the path to become the journey. In this way I'm not only savoring the exquisite beauty of nature but also the pleasures of ruminating, of sifting and sorting through my own thoughts and feelings.

With Terry accompanying me I'm learning there are many dimensions to being alive that I never considered before, simply because I always felt it necessary to have a purpose. When I walked across northern Spain (the Santiago de Compostela Camino) I realized how much of an overachiever I was. I'm learning how to let that go, and walking, especially with Terry, has helped me do so. Walking has become a form of meditation. I can't say I've attained the ability to walk without having a single thought, but I am enjoying the new experience of just being. I'm learning that from Terry.

I would like to be able to happily walk without knowing where I'm going. I would like to be able to walk farther than is safe. I would like to walk away, to let myself off my own leash to be in a place where my thoughts and feelings can exist solely for their own sakes. Terry can do that already. She has a sense of peace that I aspire to. There's nothing like a dog to help you know who you are -- and what you're capable of being.

When Terry and I are in Malibu one of our favorite pleasures is taking a long walk on the beach. I'm no longer surprised when Terry begins to jump with excitement as soon as I just think about going to the beach. Often she seems to know my thoughts before I do. By the time I've put on my sun hat Terry is down the stairs and out on the sand. For the next few minutes she leaps and barks until I throw something she can chase. When my sense of balance is challenged I negotiate a little moonwalk to avoid stepping on Terry dancing underfoot, which excites her even more.

Terry's favorite beach activity is chasing wet sand, so I pick up a long-handled scoop that I'll use to fling the sand as far out in front of me as I can. Terry will then run like a streak of furry lightning, her paws barely touching the ground, to launch herself twisting and twirling on the ocean breeze to catch every possible grain of sand. I don't need to stock up on Frisbees, or rubber balls, or anything else a pet store has to offer. Wet sand is all she wants. When we pass other beach walkers, they stare in disbelief at what Terry does in the air, and at the rudimentary nature of her chasing toy. She likes the sand because all the other dogs like balls and sticks. I don't mind; not only do I get a good upper body workout this way, I also never have to bend over to retrieve anything. Terry would never lower herself to bring an object back to lie at my feet anyway. Such an act would be demeaning.

Terry stops unexpectedly, still as a perched statue on the beach in front of me, and waits for me to catch up. This gives me the opportunity to step into a fast-paced stride. I reach Terry and keep right on going. She, meantime, maintains her frozen stance, which finally forces me to turn back to get her. She loves interrupting my stride.

When another dog approaches, Terry simply sets her ears in antenna position and waits. If the new dog seems friendly, Terry's tail wags like a runaway metronome and she romps to meet her new friend. If the dog looks hostile, Terry waits for the dog to reach her, then rolls over on her back and flattens her ears in supplication, allowing the dog to have his way with her. This is actually a form of seduction. Today she allowed a big German shepherd to believe he was in control, and then she bounded to her feet and began to play. The huge male was astonished and thrown off balance. Sometimes she keeps playing until the game becomes a romp, but today she simply trotted off, leaving the huge shepherd abandoned and confused, a helpless giant.

Terry's Perspective

Shirley MacLaine, Oscar winner, three-time Emmy winner, and 10-time Golden Globe winner, has appeared in more than 50 films, has been nominated for an Academy Award six times; she received the Oscar for Best Actress in 1984 for her performance in Terms of Endearment. A longtime outspoken advocate for civil rights and liberties, women's right, and spiritual understanding, Shirley MacLaine has sold more than 20 million copies of her nine international bestsellers, which include her most recent success, The Camino. For more information, please visit the author's Website at: www.shirleymaclaine.com.

Published by Atria; October 2003; Copyright © 2003 Shirley MacLaine

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