"Sam lives in my neighborhood. Suffice it to say that he is in late middle age — he's been around. What he looks like and what he does for a living are not important. It's how he thinks and what he does to make living worthwhile that are impressive. As with Alice, you probably know someone like him. As with Alice, you may even be someone like him.

"Almost every evening I see him, walking both his old dog and a recently acquired puppy. It's a common scene — an ordinary event in most neighborhoods. You can almost set your clock by his reliable rhythm — coming by at ten and going back by at ten-thirty. Winter, summer, spring, and fall. Rain or snow, clouds or starshine, he walks the dogs.

"Nothing dramatic here — a regular guy and regular dogs taking a regular walk. Out walking myself, I followed him at a distance a couple of times. His dogs pause to do their business, but he also has reason to pause. The dogs look for a tree, and Sam looks for stars.

"I spoke to him about this.

"He said the dogs keep him doing something important for himself. The old dog finds his leash each evening and stands by the door, waiting. The old dog is driven by his lower intestine and bladder. The young dog frolics through the house, yapping and wriggling, driven by enthusiasm for any opportunity for action and adventure. But Sam is compelled by a need for what he tells his wife is 'some fresh air.' Whatever he calls it, she understands where he is going and why. While he is out of the house, she will do the dishes. For the same reasons, he goes out with the dogs. It is a sacred habit — a reflective time alone.

"Sam says that on these walks he settles the affairs of the day and thinks about tomorrow. He calms down from the busyness of his life, notices the weather, the seasons, the trees, and the stars, and thinks about 'all the big stuff.'

"He has watched the essential evening news of this turning and evolving world and is ready for bed and sleep. 'Harmony' is a word that comes to mind.

"Sam knows the old dog will not live much longer, so the young dog is there to overlap the inevitable loss. He thinks the young dog will learn a lot from the older dog he can't learn from people. And buying the young dog is an acknowledgment of life-and-death and a gesture toward the future — of Sam's continuing to be around for a while himself.

"When my neighbor walks the dogs, he performs a ritual act of sacer simplicitas, to use the church Latin: 'sacred simplicity.' Walking the dog is in truth a ritual of renewal and revival on an intimate scale — a small rebirth of well-being on a daily basis."