As I crossed the street into the park, she definitely stood out in the crowd. Not that she was one to draw attention in any particular way, but she had an enormous Doberman on a short leash. The dog was as big as she was, and walked right next to her, completely at ease and docile in the crowd of people around her. On the dog’s back was a white pack with the words “Guide Dog In Training”.
I kind of felt bad for the dog – “nobody likes to feel like a rookie”, I thought. I was interested in her story. A crowd of kids had gathered around to admire the dog, I waited my turn. When I started talking to her I was surprised by what I learned.
The woman’s name is Vivian. And Vivian is dying.
She’s been on a liver donor list for a long time, but the odds of her living long enough to move to the top of the list are slim. She speaks about it very matter-of-factly. About a year ago Vivian had finally gotten to a point where she simply couldn’t do it on her own any more, negotiating life was just getting too difficult. She found a guide dog service online, and they sent her a puppy.
Every week Vivian recieves specific instructions on what to do to further train her dog. She’s done all of the training herself – with the goal that her dog will be a certified guide dog within 18 months. Vivian was very proud of the fact that they were on course to accomplish that goal.
I asked her to tell me about the most remarkable thing she had taught the dog. Without hesitation she told me that the dog knows how to dial 911. The foundation supplies a phone with one large dog-sized button, and when Vivian falls, or passes out, the dog will call for help. I was amazed at the service this dog could provide.
We had been chatting for about five minutes and the dog started to push against Vivian. I reached out to steady her because I thought the dog was going to knock her over. Vivian told me that there was no need for concern. The dog is aware of how Vivian is feeling, and when she starts to feel shaky, the dog is trained to press up against Vivian’s legs to steady her. Vivian was literally leaning on the dog for support.
I was smitten that I had simply wanted to know more without regard for how Vivian was feeling. I thanked her for her time, and she and her amazing dog moved off into the park.
I wondered if the dog, and goals in life, were extending Vivian’s life. I wonder if the very fact that the dog depends on her to be taught gives meaning to Vivians life, and will help her live longer – maybe long enough to receive a new liver?
But I was left to wonder. My conversation with her was brief, yet one of the more memorable conversations I’ve had.
You know as I walked away from Vivian, I was sad. The thought in my mind was “I might not ever see her again”. I find that an interesting reaction. Since I won’t see the vast majority of the people that I write about here ever again. Somehow talking with someone who simply tells me “I’m dying” made it more poignant…
But really, couldn’t we all say that? “I’m dying”. Entropy is taking it’s toll. We are all closer to our end now that we where when we started reading this…
I guess it made me question if what I’m doing on this site is worth it. If I never see these people again, are these little glimpses into their existence really contributing anything?
As I’ve thought about it, here’s what I think…
As I work on this site, as I reach out to others and try to see life through their eyes for a moment, I become better. I wish I knew the words to tell you exactly how. Part of it is I find I’m more patient with my fellow beings, I’m starting to realize that we are all faced with amazing things in life, and we’re just trying to do the best we can.
My buddy Andy and I were talking yesterday about how society, our culture, makes it so easy to further isolate yourself, to pull inward and push others away. We have all of this technology allowing us to reach out to someone halfway around the globe instantly, yet the technology isolates us in our cubicles, staring at monitors that represent the life we yearn to really live.
So I won’t ever see Vivian again. I probably won’t make it back to the Funky Chicken Farm. All of these people reflected on this site were quick intersections on my life path. That doesn’t diminish the fact that a connection was made. In an instant they made my life better. I have to believe that in that same instant I made their lives better too.
I think sometimes we forget that we have that power inside of us. The power to truly make someone else’s life better, if only for an instant. The power to make the human race better one connection at a time. When we reach out, we add our unique energy to the rest of the human race. And the planet is better for it.
So in 2010 join me. Use that power inside you in whatever way feels like the right way, to reach out and connect with those around you. Friends, family, and the people you see every day will be better for your effort to connect. Believe that you have power to make other’s lives better (sometimes it only takes a smile) and act upon that belief.
I know it can be hard. Just start. Baby steps to a better planet… You’ll love it.