Yesterday was a physical milestone for me because it was the first time I had the energy to do the Point Isabel off-leash dog park in El Cerrito (one of the ten best dog parks in the United States). It requires a lot of walking, even if one doesn’t go to the far reaches of the park. Being right next to the Berkeley shore, it has views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the mouth of the Bay from the Pacific Ocean.
Our dog Monte routinely has to show the big dogs that he is not afraid to jump into the ocean and catch the ball, even though he is a fraction of the size of the dogs that usually jump in and fight the tide and waves. This trip was no exception. People routinely ask what kind of dog he is because when he’s wet and comes out of the water, he doesn’t look like the typical Yorkshire Terrier lap dog, particularly with his fixation on retrieving the ball, which he is very well trained to drop at our feet so he can have yet another indefatigable go at it. Monte doesn’t know it, but he’s probably an inspiration to many a dog. I had an inspiration from someone myself during this trip.
Through my ups and downs with my crutches and knee problems, procedures, physical therapy and surgery since last October, I was able to do the Hayward Shoreline a few times since then with a lot of assistance, but this was a more public event with now five dogs that Shando and I have to corral. By and large the dogs mind very well, but these days anytime a dog strays from the pack Shando has to run after them because I’m still getting used to walking with a normal gait and full extension, still relying on a cane for safety, although I could theoretically walk with one with a hitch.
We were heading back to the car with our herd when toward us came a little girl with her mother. The girl had a knee brace on and was walking with two crutches. She reminded me so much of my niece Brooke. She didn’t appear to have the ability to stand up on her feet and her legs were so skinny and weak I wondered to myself if she had ever walked in her life. I don’t know if she had a permanent condition or was recovering from an injury, but she was elated just to be there and gleeful at all of the dogs who looked at her without judgment or sympathy despite her additional appendages. I was starting to feel like I needed a rest, so I told Shando that I would sit at the next bench. Instead, I saw this girl move toward the same bench, and decided she was having so much fun with the strangers dogs around her that I would not distract from it with my own cane and presence. I forced myself to move along to the next bench further down the path, but the impression she made upon me lingered. I don’t think her mother and she even had a dog themselves, but she kept on calling to her mother to look at the various dogs that were gathering around her. She was so joyfully petting the dogs and exclaiming to her mother how soft they were and how cute the two litter mates were that came up to her.
I wondered if she just thought I was just another old man with a permanent limp, which is one of the reasons for vanity I sometimes preferred the crutches over my cane. I wondered if she envied the fact that I appeared to only require a cane. She could not have known that I had just endured almost a half year of frustration with barely being able to walk around my own house, and still having difficulty getting up my own stairs. I almost wanted to ask her about her crutches and how they were serving her, but I didn’t want to open up the Pandora’s box and embarrass her or myself. I just smiled and hobbled past her, enjoying the sound of her continued, unabashed thrill at being so popular among the puppies. I don’t know how long she will have to suffer with the inability to stand or run, but even if it is permanent, she had a glow about her that made my problems seem trite by comparison.
I wonder if girls like this, or other wheelchair-bound children, ever looks at themselves and wonder how much better off they have it than kids in the past or other parts of the world. There are families fleeing war and oppression, even in modern times. I know I would fight immigration laws and risk my life if I had a chance to improve the lives of my family members. I wouldn’t expect children to pontificate about this, because as parents we want to shelter our children from the troubles of the world. At the same time, we want children to be our future leaders (sooner than later), which is why it is always inspiring to find self-appointed young advocates speak out about violence and bigotry, as we’ve seen in the news very recently. Just like with my knee and my ability to walk, I know enough about politics to know that we will always have setbacks. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I couldn’t decide if my heart was broken by seeing this girl with legs she was unable to use, or galvanized. I’ll take two painful, limping steps forward and one buckling step back any day.