Sometimes life can reach out and touch you so deeply it can leave you forever changed. It happens in the most unexpected of ways without fanfare or warning. And sometimes it’s like being hit but a truck.
Monday morning my husband and I woke early, long before the sunrise. After puttering around the house for awhile, we decided to take a walk and enjoy what little solitude can be had around here.
The air was heavy and damp making my shirt cling to me the moment we stepped outside. Always darkest before the dawn, as they say, the sky was a spectacle. Saturn, Mars, Venus and Jupiter glowed brightly with the crescent of the waning moon as their center piece. The constellation of Cancer provided the mantle on which it all rested. We couldn’t help but pause to take it all in to the tune of the heavy trucks rumbling sleepily from the road that was our destination.
The streets were otherwise deserted. We paused again at the little temple outside the gate. The bare bulbs dangling from the ceiling gave a golden glow and strings of twinkling lights lent a happy aura to the place. The goddess Durga, the divine mother of creation, smiled out at us with breathtaking beauty. Hanuman watched in stoic silence nearby. I lingered there. I couldn’t help myself. Although I don’t worship these deities, the peace of this place was palpable. There’s a fragrance there, undetectable by the nose but felt in the heart as delicate as a flower’s perfume. Two blocks down the road, the irony would almost ruin me.
I was reluctant to leave, but my husband tugged me on. He wanted milk for his tea. I recalled the juicy ginger roots waiting in the fridge and salivated. The sweet tang of ginger tea did sound pretty appealing so I followed along holding his hand as we strolled under grimy street lights reluctant to give up their light.
When we approached the road, humanity trundled sleepily along. The trucks banged, and the occasional car or motorbike sputtered. Green rickshaws, almost gray in the darkness, stood slumbering untouched by the diesel fumes. Everything was oblivious to the dust.
The little shop was open as we’d hoped. Some days it isn’t at such an early hour but we lucked out. As my husband stepped to the window of the little pink shack to ask for our milk and pay, I stood nearby and quietly observed. Several vehicles were parked there and a few men were loitering around the corner, smoking and talking in low voices. I tried to be invisible. As the only white foreign woman living in our area my presence is always met with stares. It still makes me uncomfortable. I’m a freakish thing to them, I think. An unexpected spectacle. Maybe someday they’ll get used to the fact I exist here. Or maybe not. Either way, I was happier not to be seen.
I noticed the dogs. Stray dogs are plentiful here in India. They congregate in small groups, claiming a landmark as their home base, and like everything else here they coexist. Two of them were milling near the men; one black and white and the other a dark brown. They looked hale and healthy as far as street dogs go. The third, a young chestnut colored thing, was snuggled tightly against the shack wall away from the others, curled tightly in a ball. She was a young dog and as I stood trying to be invisible she was watching me.
It was her eyes that held me. They’re still burned into my mind. They silently said so much. Dogs are such intuitive creatures. I think it comes from their natural need to be social; with each other and with us. Perhaps she sensed what I was thinking as I stood there. I was missing my own dog, left behind in the States. I still mourn her absence. But I looked into those eyes and I knew the stray dog’s thoughts.
Be kind to me. Speak gently to me. Let me feel comfort.
My heart reacted and poured from my mouth before I even realized what I was doing.
“Hi, sweet baby,” I cooed softly, not to attract the attention of the men around the corner. “Oh, sweetheart.”
She raised her head higher and slightly closer and I wanted to reach out and touch her but I also saw the fear lingering behind her need. Her tail dared not even a wag.
“It’s okay. I understand,” I told her. “It’s ok.”
I could see the war within her. She wanted to come to me yet she wanted to remain invisible too. That emotion I could relate to. Her inner conflict made my heart ache.
I pondered whether or not to move closer, to make some overture, but everything exploded. It all happened in an instant. One of the men kicked her, sending her into motion with a squeal. The other two dogs erupted, barking. They knew well not to trifle with men like these but their need to protect their pack-mate sent them running in sweeping circles, barking sharply; venting their outrage away from its real source for their own safety.
Then I saw the reason for both her need and her conflict. She was hobbling on 3 legs. Her hind leg she held up gingerly out of the way. She was injured. Not knowing where to go or what to do, she simply plopped down next to a car’s tire, shivering. This is when my heart broke into two. She wasn’t watching the men who offended her. She wasn’t watching her pack-mates pacing here and there. She was looking at me. The raw hunger of her fear and her need shattered inside of me like a thousand shards of glass.
Having acquired our milk, my husband jarred me back into myself.
It was all I could say. He took my numb hand and we walked away. I can’t remember when I’ve felt like such a shit leaving her there. Feeling her eyes on me, I forced myself to turn once. She was still cowering by the tire, still watching me. When the lights of the road were behind us, and the privacy of darkness had cloaked us again, I shed a few silent tears. Her need followed me.
Questions are haunting me now: Why does suffering like this have to exist in this world? Why does any being have to live so starved for simple kindness? I can’t accept “oh, it’s just the way things are” as the rationalization. Maybe I’m an idealist but complacency like that is also an ideal and it a crummy one. I refuse to accept that excuse because I know it doesn’t have to be this way. People choose it. We could choose to be kind. Even if it’s only pausing to share a gentle word, to reach out to comfort that hunger in another. But so many times we make the choice to walk on by, or worse, to kick it and turn callously away. I guess this is how we delude ourselves that we can be in control of the discomfort suffering in others causes in us instead of allowing our hearts to open and reach out.
But letting the heart open is such a beautiful thing. There’s immense power in that one simple act. It’s a power that can move mountains without effort. It’s so strong that it can leave something forever changed. That forlorn dog, in return for a few kind words, taught me more in those few moments than years of seeking has. Love is the most important thing in this world. Kindness is the light in the deepest night of hopelessness. And it’s a choice.
Hatred, anger, contempt and frustration are all mired in the material world and we get caught in that habitual mind-muck. It’s an ugly habit, an unconscious choice. But love is something else, entirely. When the heart is open, being in this loving state is pure ease. You breathe. Unfurl. When the heart is opened in an act of kindness it opens the heart of one who is closed. And being closed is suffering. In that moment of kindness, natural being is restored, if only for a moment, giving a glimpse of another possibility. Another choice.
We need to be more mindful of how we choose to be. We need to choose wisely.
Why do you feel it’s easier for our hearts to be touched by animals?