Monday, January 29, 2007

Training

Her eyes flashed anger.

But perhaps it's best if I put you into the picture. Joe and I were out for lunch on a weekend between gigs. We had just pulled into a table when I heard two sounds I have come to recognize over the years - one was the soft wrrrrrrrr of an electric wheelchair, the other was the soft clicking of a dog padding along on tile. They were seated at the table across the aisle and the woman in the chair, a pretty black woman, smile at me - a "nice to see another one", smile.

The woman was with two others who sat at the table. As soon as they were seated and before the waitress came to offer water or coffee she looked down at the dog and said, 'please'. I swear the dog nodded. Then with purpose the dog got up and strolled round to the back of the chair, jumped up and nuzzled into the canvas bag at the back of the chair and got out a knife that was clearly made specially for his companion's hands. He gripped it around the wooden handle and jumped down and walked to her and got up to within her reach, she took it and said "Thanks". He looked at her, searchingly and she again said, "please". The dog then repeated the routine bringing her a similarly adapted fork. This time when he looked at her she just said, "No thanks."

Her friends were astonished and she explained, "I don't think I need the spoon." The dog laid down beside her. He was dressed in a vest that had 'please don't talk to me, I'm working' printed on the back. The woman and her friends chatted and I noticed that a while into their lunch he lifted his head and then rested his chin gently on her feet. I got a bit teary because I know what that feels like, and I know what that means. Eric used to do that sometimes when we were sitting on the couch. If he was feeling really snuggly and really close to me he'd move close in and put his chin on my ankles and go to sleep. It's a lovely feeling.

She glanced down and him with a smile almost imperceptablely forming around the edges of her mouth. Her friends talked to her about her dog and you could tell she was in love with that animal. Then one of her friends made a joke, "I wish we could train men to be willing slaves like that dog is for you."

Mistake.

Fire flashed in her eyes.

Her friend saw it to and silenced immediately.

"This dog is not my slave. This dog is my friend, my partner, my companion. We do things for each other. I would never treat this dog with disrespect. I don't even feel like I own him, I feel like we live together. He needs me and I need him."

"I'm sorry," her friend said.

The moment passed and they moved on to other conversations but you knew that a line had been crossed. During the interchange it was like the dog knew he was being spoken of, he lifted his head up and listened. I think he could hear the emotion in his partners voice - he looked at her face wondering if everything was ok. When her voice returned to normal, he lay down again. You could see he was ready to protect her if she needed it, his life was hers.

When it was time to leave. She wiped of the knife and fork and one at a time he put them back in the bag. Before she backed up he moved around as if to signal to everyone that she was going to move and then they slowly left the restaurant.

The dog looked back, for a moment, at the woman who had called him a slave, then turned and ran happily longside the wheelchair.

"You'd think that damn dog knew," she said.

"Maybe he does," I said and took her aback.

But I'm guessing he knows more than that he was insulted, I'm guessing he knows he's needed, I'm also guessing he knows that his role of 'support' does not make him 'servant' and his role of 'support' does not make him 'superior'.

Who trained that dog? And can I go for brush up lessons myself?

4 comments:

Belinda said...

The perfect quote,just read on another blog, but which goes with this post is by W.C. Fields, whose birthday I believe it is today:

"It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to."

I love it.

Susan said...

Hey Dave,

Do you ever think that God just lets you see these stories unfold right before your eyes because he trusts you re-tell them for the rest of us?

I'm constantly amazed at your uncanny ability to pull "The Story" (the real story) out of a simple series of events like this one...

Thanks for yet another gift. (And yes, the best things in life are still free...)

lina said...

Dave,
as I sit here smiling to myself, thinking of how beautifully you put this, I don't even want to write my thank you - as I know it cannot compare to your writing - but thank you all the same. Beautiful words, beuatifully put together and yet another lesson!

Andrea said...

That's precisely it!

The act of service, and the interdependency we all have with each other is often so twisted. I hate the way that inability has been corrupted, when it is so normal.

Worse, so many of us who are disabled or handicapped (in the social sense) find ourselves going through strenuous overcompensation to lay claim to acceptance.

"Out in our various communities, we need to be able to not only acknowledge that Yes, not everyone can do the same thing, but also destigmatise that fact. One of the tragedies with the current paradigms in the helping professions is the disdain and depersonalisation from “care-givers” to that people who need personal attendant services or other forms of assistance. We can’t all do the same things. Needing someone to change your diaper should be no more stigmatising than needing someone to change the oil in your car. There’s really something sick about people who feel superior those whom they serve — there’s an element of self-loathing transferred from one’s self to one’s job to the client. It is overcompensation of the soul-eating malicious sort. Service to others is about sharing strengths, not about bolstering one’s damaged self-worth at the expense of others’."
http://qw88nb88.wordpress.com/2007/02/03/running-with-the-red-queen/