By Jim Kuiken
Freedom and I used to go for a walk every morning. Our walk took us about a block away to a greenbelt – a paved path leading out through the trees and quiet areas for about the first mile, then it picks back up on a tree-lined and shaded paved path that parallels a two-lane road, going up and down some good little dips and rises – and if we go the full route, is 3 miles…my old running route before age, old injuries and arthritis took that away.
Most days, we just did two miles, but occasionally we got froggy.
On one of our walks, almost exactly a year ago, I spotted something in the trees just off the path. I’m always alert to movement and sound, and Freedom is alert to smells, so between the two of us we spot a lot of critters out on our walks…chipmunks, squirrels, turtles, raccoons, foxes, deer, etc.
This time, it was something that really didn’t fit that caught my attention. Something white in among the trees. When we stopped and focused in, I finally realized that what I was looking at was a little white fawn. As I watched her (I liked to think of it as a her…), I slowly realized that right next to her was her brother (again, my projection), a totally normal fawn…and then, behind and just a few feet away, their mother. I hadn’t seen the mother or brother, but she had stood out and caught my attention. Freedom sat, and we stayed there in silence just looking at the magical creature and her family for several minutes, until they turned and slowly walked away into the trees. I still remember that moment, the peace and the beauty.
And life goes on.
Eventually, the slow, insidious creep of dis-engagement began re-inserting itself into my life, the walks tapered off and then stopped, my writing slowed down, and I got caught up in administrative issues, trying to respond to everyone, the meetings and appearances, etc., and without even knowing it, began to backslide towards where I was when I first met Freedom.
Don’t get me wrong, I was still orders of magnitude better than before, and in no real danger of shutting down again, but I had definitely been dis-engaging – and some of the frustration, anger and other issues were bubbling back towards the surface.
So yesterday, after finishing a particularly long, arduous few weeks of concentrated administrative tasks, I sent off the final document and decided I needed to get out, have a burger and relax. Afterwards I felt like taking my time and having a cup of coffee, so I drove over – didn’t find any parking – and ended up parking across the street.
As Freedom and I crossed the street – with the light and crossing signal – we were about half-way across when a car came speeding toward the light, and thinking that he wasn’t going to stop, I yanked Freedom back, pulling him completely airborne by the collar around his neck, as he spun around mid-air and yelped. The car slowed abruptly, crossing the big white line he was supposed to stop behind, pulling into the crosswalk and stopping right at the farthest white line, completely blocking the crosswalk. Unfortunately, stopping over the line (and even into the crosswalk) is not all that unusual here in Virginia and DC…but he didn’t slow until the last minute, making me think he was going to hit Freedom.
The young (late 20’s / early 30’s) male driver just looked at me, and although there was plenty of room behind him to back out of the crosswalk, just gave me a dismissive look as he went back to his phone conversation.
What happened to common courtesy, respect, basic awareness of anyone but self? Is civility completely lost?
That cold beast inside me that I describe in The Making of a Warrior popped his dark head out, and the anger flashed over.
What happened next (I won’t even try to put it in a flattering light…it wasn’t pretty), definitely got his attention and left him with no doubt about what I thought of his actions. He sat there in his fancy little car, stunned, as we walked on…until we got far enough away that he felt safe.
As we were approaching the far side of the road, he popped up out of the car and started yelling, saying what he’d do to me. A 20-30 something old “man” to a 60+ year old man with a fully vested and identified Service Dog…
Not one to turn my back to a threat, I spun around and started back towards him, telling him to kiss my #%&! #$$. As I closed on him, he jumped back in his car and locked all the doors – so with the threat gone, I turned and went back towards the coffee shop. The light changed and he sped off, as we went in and got the coffee, sat down, and tried to stuff that dark animal back into his cubby-hole.
This morning when I got up I was still feeling the residual anger, and saw Freedom lying there in his bed, looking up at me with his big brown eyes. For no reason I got dressed, got his leash, and we headed out – back on that trail through the woods that we hadn’t seen in months.
We didn’t even make it a half mile when guess who was standing there, off the side of the trail, looking at us. That white (now yearling) young deer, her brother and mother. We stopped and all looked at each other for several minutes, and I could just feel the blood pressure dropping, the peace returning to my soul, and I reached down to put my hand on Freedom’s head. Re-engaging, letting the press of the urgent drift away, and focusing back on the important.
I’m so very grateful for the reminder…message received loud and clear!