Tuesday, September 11, 2012
It's all a test, isn't it? Life, I mean. In every day, there's at least one moment when we have a choice--the free will option, if you will--to choose kindness over cruelty, patience over haste, tolerance over temper, trust over fear. Whether we pass or fail is entirely up to each of us.
Sometimes the test is monumental, overwhelming, excruciatingly difficult; or maybe just getting out of bed was the test. Some days the test might be barely recognizable, but then, that's part of it, too: paying attention.
This morning. I take the boys to the soccer field park; now that school has started the park is quiet, not many folks around and I can usually let the dogs off-leash for a nice run along the river.
I'm meandering along, keeping my eye on the boys as they run willy-nilly, having a good few minutes of freedom, when I see across the vastness of the soccer field--and in the direction we are heading--a man sitting on the remnant of an old foundation wall that must have been either a restroom or a maintenance shed of some kind many years ago. All that's left of the original building is the thigh-high rectangle of crumbling cement with trees, bushes and weeds reclaiming the space. It's a good place to sit, right beside the river, and I've done it several times, as have others. Like this guy who appears to be reading a newspaper as he sits on the wall in the sunshine.
Several minutes later, we've come halfway around the field and are approaching the path that will take us directly past the man. I squint into the sun because I can't figure out what the large black object is at his feet. A big duffel bag? A body wrapped in a tarp? I call the dogs to me, leash them up, and slowly walk forward until I'm about 20 feet or so from the man.
And then the duffel bag moves, stands, stretches and I realize I have inadvertently walked into deep trouble. The Rottweiler outweighs me by many muscle groups. His teeth are bigger than my fingers--a comparison I quickly make when he yawns, mouth open and foot-long tongue curling. I stop dead in my tracks when I see the dog is not leashed. And then from behind the man, another head rises out of the shrubs.
What do you do when the fight or flight option isn't relevant in the least? It's a debilitating sensation to have your brain say Run!, but your body say Don't move! We're dead meat if we run.
Now, in the 3 seconds this all transpires, the guy continues to blithely read his newspaper. I'm stunned by his lack of concern. Which fortunately breaks the spell of imminent death and dismemberment that has frozen me in place. Quietly, I say, "Have you got your dogs close?"
He raises his head and looks my direction. He's really handsome, in a bad-boy-biker sort of way, with dark hair and a trim, sharp goatee, one glittery stud in his right earlobe. "I surely do, ma'am," he says in the softest southern drawl I've heard in years. Holy crap. "May-am" just might be my new favorite word.
"It's just my dogs are quite small and yours are so big..." I drift to a halt as the second dog practically steps over the 3-foot wall with no effort and joins the first, both staring at Ozzy and Max like they're potato chips. Which is about the right snack-to-mouth ratio.
The guy chuckles, then says something under his breath, and both dogs immediately lay down at his feet. Now, they haven't stopped the "bet you're tasty" stare, and both are drooling as they focus on my boys, but wow, it seems with just a whisper the guy has control. Still. They're animals. Big, big animals.
I leash the dogs close and walk forward. Max wants to greet the guy because he feels everyone wants to pet him, but no way in the world am I going to let him walk between these two giants.
"They won't hurt your dogs," the guy says as he sees me pull Max to heel.
"I can't tell you how many times I've had someone say that to me, right before their dog decided to eat mine."
He looks straight at me, smiles and quietly says, "I just wouldn't let that happen." And I believe him. A total stranger with two huge dogs that could kill a rhino if they wanted to. But I trust him, take him at his word.
"Good to know," I say as I walk past.
Once I get beyond them, I turn and, walking backwards, smile at the guy. "Thanks," I say.
"You're welcome, ma'am." He raises a hand to his forehead and makes a gesture like he's tipping his hat, then goes back to reading his newspaper, the dogs laying quietly at his feet in the sun.
Was that my test for the day? Trust a perfect stranger instead of react to the fear that could have caused a real problem for everyone? Or did I just luck out and happen to stumble across a perfect southern gentleman, out of time and place?
I don't know, but you can bet my head will be filled with that soft drawl for awhile...