“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” John Banville, The Sea
I had what I would call a “chance meeting” a couple of months ago with a stranger far-far away from me in life and cultural experience, and yet, we seemed to ride piggyback on each other’s heart and soul. I had taken LucyBelle to the veterinarian and this is where, uninvited, this relationship bloomed. Who would have guessed it, one rainy day, fraught with sadness because of LucyBelle’s cancer….and yet, like an early spring, a cherry blossom unfolded before me.
I can’t turn directly into the vet’s parking lot but must drive past, turn into a different business’ parking lot, and then loop around. As I sat in this parking lot, I watched the usual traffic pass. Each car that went by seemed filled with empty faces; minds not on traffic, but instead, occupying their day’s needs; their life’s worries; their celebrations—but all lost, certainly not noticing me waiting. I wondered if this is how people always appeared, or was it me—my sullen mood; my concerns for my faithful companion. It was then that a small-beat-up-old pick-up truck passed by, and the passenger in this car looked right into my eyes’ soul. He made me feel beyond my moment, deeply. His head turned and my thought was, I see you dear sir, and I hope you feel my sincerity as you pass me by. I remember a slight grin crossing my face, if only to see a person with a life in his eyes greeting mine.
Soon, I saw a break in the traffic and I pulled in. I am fussing about, getting my phone, wrangling LucyBelle’s leash, and all that goes with her, when suddenly, the same man that caught my heart just minutes before, opened the door for me. Again, touchdown: connection.
He looked as if he had been unearthed from centuries before. Gray, wild hair: a morning’s fog growing down along his chest; dirty feet in over-worn thongs: feet which knew the earth; loved it; appreciated its loam and the history which held them atop it; holes in his pants, not that of fashion, but that of hard work; a knitted and well loved cap, adorning his noggin, though of wool and of every color of the rainbow, it struck me as a crown of thorns. He had dark eyes; brown, like the bark on an ancient cedar. Who is who or why, when you know nothing about them and yet feel as if you have known them for lifetimes.
I signed in, sat down with LucyBelle, and waited to be called. It was then I noticed this man had no pet. I asked him if his pet was in his truck and did he need help to fetch? He said no. I asked him, have you signed in? He said no, I didn’t realize I had to. Yes, I said. Now, this conversation is fairly normal and I might even call it mundane—but I was acutely aware as we spoke, there was another dialogue going on behind the courtesy conversation we were sharing.
He signed in. He disappeared and returned with a black and white pitbull. Quietly, he referred to her as Maddie. She appeared very well worn; much like the clothes on the back of her human Papa – slow moving, aged, clearly loved and had lived a big life. I asked him, what are you here for, shots? And he said nothing, after what seemed to be about a minute, he said, Maddie had “walked her line” and he took his weathered-rugged hands and drew a short line with his finger in the air…to show me the very line that he was speaking of. I knew then, he was there to put Maddie down.
He went on to tell me a story about his animals. He, at one point, owned 20 dogs, 10 cats, 10 goaties, horses, and a bunny. (His face lit up when he added the bunny—you could see immediately the bunny was the muse of light in his menagerie of loves.) He went on to add, he had never killed an animal in his life; he had never touched an animal to cause them harm. Yet he had killed men. Our eyes never left each other, because the quiet was as important as the words we spoke. I felt myself well and found it unlike me to find it normal for this man to have killed another man. I don’t believe in killing much; but I had this peaceful understanding that whatever men he may have killed, they may have deserved it. Being an old farm girl, I have put down countless animals and I was acutely aware of the pain he was enduring; because putting down an animal is tough enough, but a pet??? He stayed stoic, quiet, but his aura filled up the waiting room. Maddie stood by him loyally, looking down—and when he moved, she had to think her every step, to keep up with the simplest action made.
Well, in fine Robin fashion, I felt tears start to flow… I could barely squeak out I am so sorry you and Maddie are taking this last journey together. He reminded me that this was not their last journey; they will continue on; but in spirit—he was there because Maddie had “walked her line” and needed help. It was foreign to him, I could tell. He shared an interesting comparison from his days living on a reservation. He told me it felt as if he was living in a prison without fences; he said he lived his people’s lie because in his heart he knew his truth and that was–he owned this land and all the land surrounding, regardless of what another man thought. He told me that we all should feel that, regardless of ethnic background. I had to smile. I could feel the Native American experience in his words; their meaning. I could see it in his eyes; his hands; his delivery of wisdom. He told me how it was an assault on his life and many others and he did not want that for Maddie. He wanted her free, as her spirit was meant to be and that her mortality was holding her back. They knew her spirit was meant to fly, and being grounded put her in a prison without fences. He paused again, and quietly said, I have already lived that for her.
I held Maddie, while he filled out the paperwork to have her put down. Maddie, still looking down, sat quietly beside me. He turned to come and get her. We sat and talked about travels; a world we shared. And then Maddie’s name was called. A tech walked over and tried to lead her by leash back to the back room. She would not budge. He did not help her budge toward the tech. The tech asked him if she could pick Maddie up, and he said yes. Still not helping—eyes only on Maddie. Though Maddie had clearly lost a lot of weight, the tech could not lift her. She left and returned with another tech. Still not helping them–not laying one hand on Maddie–the two techs lifted her and walked off as he followed.
Fast forward ten minutes: I watched him walk outside through a back room door. He grabbed his cell and made a call. He left the parking lot for some time… and reappeared with another man, who obviously was the driver in the car. They both headed toward the back. Moments later, they reappeared in the parking lot, putting his lifeless Maddie in the back of an old and dented-pickup truck. We caught each other’s eye through the window. I felt a fear shoot through me thinking I’ll never see you again. I went and sat back down with LucyBelle.
About five minutes later, I felt something odd; that kind of feeling which makes your hairs stand-up on end. I looked up and he was standing before me holding a dirty blanket; he laid it beside me and shook my hand. The only words he spoke were: Thank you for your compassion. I told him he was most welcome; thanked him for his time and truths; and as he turned to walk out the door, I heard my small voice utter, blessings.
I don’t know if he meant for me to have that blanket; I couldn’t tell you. I notified the people at the front desk to let them know he had left it there. It wasn’t theirs, and everything in me wanted to keep it; wanted to believe he meant for me to have it; and yet…I couldn’t take it. I asked them, if he didn’t return to get it, would they please make sure it was meant to help another animal in distress—and they couldn’t have been more thankful to do just that.
Seven weeks have passed since I met this man—he hasn’t left my consciousness for more than a day here and there. This man was extraordinarily in tune with his spirit and possibly the spirit of others. He was the kind of man one might see in a movie–bigger than life–up on the big screen. And while watching in movie-magic darkness, wonder what words could I use to describe his mortal magic? I never got his name, nor did he get mine. They seemed unimportant.
I remember having a conversation with my Father years ago, and he told me of a time when he was in a court house and he saw a woman at the front of the line, of which he stood. He had never met her but he had an overwhelming feeling of goodness about her, and it was all he could do to bid her good day, when in fact, he just wanted to hold her and let her know she was safe. When we had that conversation, we chocked it up to the possibilities of a past life. Never knowing–how can we really– but that is where we went with it.
And so I wonder, who is this man to me really. Who was I to him? In a lobby full of barking dogs and conversations, it was as if we were floating in our own bubble, and all we could do was feel. We heard little else.
I believe in past lives; that’s another long-winded story. And I am betting, this magic man was someone important in one of them. Do I wish I knew that importance? Well, let me tell you this much, when I first saw him–as he passed me by on the road—I knew it all. I cannot tell you what that is or even what that means, but I can tell you that I knew.