Twice now I’ve seen a man and his service dog at my bus stop. We’re all three waiting for the #7 towards downtown at about 4:10.
The golden retriever is wearing a sign that says, “Do not pet, I’m working,” along with a harness and handle for the man to hold onto as the dog guides him to a place to wait for the bus. The dog looks up to see the man is settled, standing as comfortably as possible in the hot sun, and then lays down. He looks tired and hot as his face rests on the cement.
I feel glad he is getting a break for himself from what I imagine is a long lifetime of hard work. Even as he lies down he is sniffing actively, aware of his surroundings.
He notices me and my semi-adoring eyes but makes no move towards me, obediently loyal.
His owner makes a slight move and the dog jumps up, watching that he’s okay.
When the bus pulls up the dog knows how to help the man board and get seated safely in the ADA section. The man pulls what I think is too hard on the handle as they board, exerting his control even in his vulnerable dependence on this animal. I wonder about their relationship as the man has an unkempt air of frustration about him, muttering to himself and shuffling his feet.
He stands to try to read the bus stops as they appear on the electronic sign, squinting from three feet away. I wonder why this bus doesn’t have the audio on and think about offering to read them out loud for him. I imagine saying them in a game show host voice in an attempt to convince him I’m “quirky” and just enjoy doing it for myself so he doesn’t feel singled out or pitied. I feel nervous, so I just sit and watch, thinking that’s the bus driver’s job.
As the man comes to his stop he gives the dog a vigorous rub, ruffling his ears around. The dog stands, wagging his tail for the first time, as if reminded of the perks of his exhausting lifetime of labor. I think he likes his work, I just hope he gets to rest and play sometimes in the evenings.
The next day I’m meditating, imagining a wave of love flowing from from my head down my body to my feet, and I remember the dog. And I realize that I am the dog. That my life has been work instead of play in relationships, looking for the few moments when I think everyone’s “okay” to snatch a moment of rest. Enjoying my work and relishing the moments of praise enough to put up with being jerked around by people afraid of their own vulnerability. Finding my identity in my ability to be useful. Still trying to be the service dog even to people who would accept and treasure all of me.
And I cry.
I yearn for rest and play and freedom. I honor my compassion and my needs, my giving and receiving.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite passages by Khalil Gibran on giving:
“There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.”
With each breath, learning to give as the myrtle tree, an outflow of who I am.