A woman approaches me on East 61st St. in Manhattan. “My dog died,” she says. “Oh dear,” I say. I know about this. I do. She’s attracted by my guide dog and a switch has tripped in her grief gizmo and all she can think about is her loss. If I was walking with a white cane she wouldn’t have said a thing. “My poor dog died,” she says again, as if saying it once wasn’t sufficient to convey the awfulness of the story. And I’m frozen on the sidewalk. This isn’t the first time. For years strangers have invaded my happy thought bubble to share their dog death stories.
She starts to cry, this stranger, and she reaches out. “Can I touch your dog?” she asks, half weeping, half speaking. The process has taken just a few seconds. I’m reminded that four seconds can be immense. Satan fell from Heaven to Hell in just that time. I understand we’re having an unplanned and wholly unscripted spiritual moment. I can’t allow myself to freeze. A decision must be made. If you have a guide dog you’re not supposed to let strangers touch her (or even friends for that matter.) A working dog is doing just that. It’s not looking for love in all the wrong places. When you’re at home, voila, the harness comes off, and love is all the rage. But not on the sidewalk, not at a street crossing. You’re a team, the two of you, a survival unit. That’s just the way it is. “Yes,” I say, “you can touch my dog.”
And this woman, this strange weeping woman, drops to her knees, pushes her tear streaked face into my Labrador’s face, my surprised dog, and she actually moans.
There are so many corners to grief. So many lofty defeats inside each of us. So many exhaustions, facts, deserts, infinities, unexplored planets.
The non-existence of a dog has incited a vast, soft, exploration here, beside a row of parked delivery trucks outside the Hotel Pierre on a windy autumn day with dead leaves flying in circles like butterflies returned from the after life and she’s weeping into my dog’s thick fur.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “but we have to go now.” And I back up. Corky looks at me, as if to assess how far the grief has traveled. I think she wants to know if I’m OK.
I tell her to go forward. We move away. We enter the silent invasion of the future.
I think of her often, this woman, who loved her dog, who is drowning in the stone pool of her loss.
I think of the dismal routine of New York City or any city.
I think of the unselfish nature of chance encounters.