‘Hear me, I need food.’Posted: July 19, 2010
From the Notebook: Maybe my posting a picture of cats a few days ago brought this memory back.
“Two kinds of dogs on the streets here…one lies flat-out in death-like positions, too tired, hungry or sick to move away from the feet of passersby or the wheels of cars. The second has a wired energy, quick intelligence, their eyes scan people for some aura or transfer of energy. My eyes instinctively avoid contact with these dogs. Yesterday evening, at a bus stop, a dog turned on its heels and trotted toward me––a tattered black coat of matted hair with black-purple patches of flaking skin worn bone thin. He came into pitiful, sharp view and then sat down on its haunches looking up into my eyes. His frightened eyes opened wide, stabbing straight into my heart. His head turned left then right, then jerked upward, once, twice, in a primal body language. I need food. I need food. Yes, hear me, I need food. This is a smart animal, I thought. As if reading my mind, he barked one time. Yes, I’m talking to you right now. Hear me. I need food. I had no food so I turned away quickly, walking away, trying not to look back. When I turned, he was trailing me discretely, plaintively. Take me with you. I’ll come with you. I thought about taking him home and pictured the taxi driver’s face watching me open the door with a sorry city mongrel. When I went outside again the dog had returned to the bus stop. He was prancing in a quick dance, beseeching people getting off the bus with a chorus of discrete barks, high and crisp, talking, not threatening. Then he stopped, knelt back on his haunches like before, and sang his song directly in front of a lady who carried an umbrella and a grocery sack. I’m life too. This is Me-Dog. I need help. Give. He nipped at the woman’s plastic bag. Share something. I was frozen. Another life marker, a slice of life to be buried inside my heart––this dog’s open, plaintive eyes and his language, his need. He was talking directly to people and no one took any action.
The next evening the bus stop was empty, but for that dog curled up into himself, a black mass burrowed into the day’s papers and trash. His head rested on his front paws. His eyes stared straight ahead, and he didn’t look up or speak as I placed food in front of his mouth and walked away.”
Abandonment, ignoring real need, ignoring a chance to do good: That dog haunts me. Still, I stumble out of bed each morning and automatically resurrect psychological walls between me and things that I can help change for the better. I go through each day mostly anesthetized to others’ pain––mothers and children living on the streets, fathers unable to provide, traumatized animals, the war against nature––as if calling myself an adult requires that I accept people and animals in pain and the abuse of the physical world. Ignore it, or risk looking immature, soft hearted, naive or stupid. It’s one thing to worry about things on the other side of the world, and another to walk away from what directly confronts our senses. I’m guilty of voluntarily shutting down my natural responses to do good acts. If our acts are ever totaled up in the ledger of life, we all are. We’re so much smarter than we act. The only minimal response to the pain and abuse in the world is to do as many acts of physical kindness as we can each morning and each evening. That may be too little, but if we keep it in mind and act on it maybe it’s enough to keep us human, to break down the wall.