At Publix

Things that enter by way of silence.

There is the quiet surprise of a puff of warm breath on my knee. I look to see Lou, the little Chocolate Lab, her luminous brown eyes rolled up to my face, clearly asking if I will take a break from my desk to get her purple plastic KONG football and throw it for her, one of our morning rituals. Lou is a dog of many rituals: sitting on my feet while I brush my teeth, walking to the gate each morning, breakfast, playing a short game of heal-sit-catch the thrown football-return and repeat, waiting for me to finish my near-daily bowl of raw oats, chia seeds, cinnamon, walnuts, berries, ground flax and organic unsweetened soy milk so she can lick the bowl – knowing I always leave at least one blueberry in the bottom of the bowl with a slick of milk, greet Buck when he emerges from our bedroom, sleep, eat lunch (very important), sleep some more and wait for supper.

Lou enters my study quietly, but if I don’t acquiesce soon enough, the soft breath will be replaced by a more insistent paw on my thigh. If that doesn’t do it, she starts talking to me in a bossy, whiny way, all the while walking backwards. By this time, I’m completely distracted and laughing, and we go play football. Resistance is futile.

Germs and bacteria, too, enter a cut or wound silently, stealthy invaders who need to be stopped before they are over the wall.

At Publix this afternoon I saw a well-dressed boy of about twelve holding the hand of an equally well-dressed man as they approached the deli counter. The boy spoke to everyone, his open, handsome face lit with a bright smile. His message was the same: Happy New Year! Some people responded. Some did not. They could tell something was a bit off about the boy. But the Dad was gentle with him and courteous to the other shoppers. I stood a few feet away, wondering why all the green cabbages were gone and pondering a change in menu plan, when I looked up and saw the boy. Before he had a chance to speak, I waved and said, “Happy New Year!” His face broke open into one of the brightest smiles I’ve ever seen. He gave me a classic beauty pageant wave and said, “Yes! Happy New Year!”

His dad looked at me, his open, intelligent face serious, pained. “Thank you for that,” he said quietly.

I moved along to another aisle, thinking of the ease and comfort of my own life and how little I truly know about how other people live. Their struggles. Their silent heroism.

I guess I could say that a degree of additional understanding entered my heart by way of the father’s restraint and gentleness with his beautiful, damaged chld.

The two small wounds on my right arm are itching like crazy and are redder and more puffy than I would like. I guess I am fretting because of our experience two Decembers ago when Buck’s hand was punctured by the broken off branch of a small fallen tree and he wound up in the hospital for three days with a serious blood infection. Just like that, on a crisp winter afternoon walk in our own woods.

That boy and his Dad broke my heart a little.

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