My new next-door neighbor is aging and physically challenged, although he’s probably around my age. He walks with a limp, speaks slowly and wears a hearing aid. He gets around our 56-acre property on an electric golf cart. He also wears a camouflage cap, hunts, and works on his prized stock car engine in the garage. I’ve met him on just a few occasions. The last time was during the summer when the Conservation Foundation held a meeting at his home. He told us that his dog, Reggie, was also hard of hearing and was concerned when one of the guests let the dog out in the process of coming in to the meeting.
After a week of settling in to our new home to the south of his, it was time to pay a visit, introduce my partner Steve, and discuss things like garbage pick-up and snow removal. Dave met us at the door and led us to the living room. The dog bed was empty. Dave sat down in his recliner facing the blank TV. An Elton John tune from the 70s played on the radio.
“Where’s Reggie?” I asked.
“Reggie died…on the sixth…of September.”
I dropped to my knees on the carpet in front of Dave’s chair so that I could look him in the eye. He looked like he might begin to cry.
“Oh, Dave! I am so sorry!”
Dave began to talk, haltingly at first. He told the story of how he noticed changes in his beloved companion, of decisions he had to make, and how his life had been altered. I listened and kept eye contact. The conversation changed to the present and more mundane matters, and I got up off the floor. Dave asked us to sit down on his couch.
“Don’t worry, I vacuumed the dog hair off the seat already.”
We visited for another half hour. I saw Dave laugh for the first time. And smile, and stretch, and tell jokes. We negotiated an agreement about the garbage, and he recommended a good Toyota mechanic. On the way out, I noticed a paw print plaque on a box with Reggie’s name on it.
“Oh, did you get that from the vet? My daughter got one for our cats when they passed.”
I told him I was sorry again and that we’d be seeing him around.
I have never had a dog.
I don’t remember thinking about dropping to my knees in grief at the news of Reggie’s death. I just did. I needed to look in Dave’s eyes as he spoke. Grief is a familiar friend, even if Dave was not yet.
I have a Bernie bumper sticker on my car.
I don’t know how Dave votes, and I was surprised that Wisconsin went to Trump. Now that I live in a rural community and not in Milwaukee, I see lots of folks who look like Dave.
I am a stranger here.
I work here on behalf of the land. I came to live here so that I can know it better. I am just beginning to know the people who have worked and lived here before me. I don’t know how well I’ll fit in with them, but I am very interested in seeing the adventure unfold.
I want to show loving-kindness wherever I go. This is my opportunity: this place, this day.
(from Wildmind Buddhist Meditation:
Metta is friendliness, consideration, kindness, generosity.
Metta is the basis for compassion. When our Metta meets another’s suffering, then our Metta transforms into compassion.)
© Priscilla Galasso