Saturday, January 23, 2010


Gracie, my little blind therapy dog, and I 'see' many young men coming out of ‘The Center for the Intrepid’ at Brooke Army Medical Center with arms and legs missing. Some alone and some with wives walking beside them, perhaps going to lunch before painful therapy begins once again.

On one visit, a young father in a wheelchair approached us, being pushed by his two year old daughter. In her little white dress with embroidered red cherries, she seemed quite proud of pushing her daddy around. To all in this community, it appeared a perfectly normal thing to be doing. They stopped as soon as they saw Gracie. This brave casualty of war whose legs had been blown off by an explosive device in Iraq smiled broadly, as he invited Gracie to put her paws up on his lap. Gracie did so unaware that there was anything odd about not finding legs.

His daughter, Ashley, embraced Gracie with a smile so huge my heart melted. You see she has a puppy that has had to be left at home while they spend a year or longer with her daddy – ‘just until he gets his new legs.’ I talked to her about Gracie and told her Gracie could come and visit whenever she wanted. As  they turned to go and I watched little Ashley’s eyes fill with tears, as she gave Gracie a soft little kiss on top of her head and told her to ‘come back soon Gracie, I love you.’

Our next visit this morning was with a Marine called ‘Doc.’ He had come home missing both legs, as well as his eyesight, he was on a walking patrol and just feet away from an IED as it exploded. His mom through tears told me that “there is absolutely no reason he should be alive.”  I quickly found out that what  wasn’t missing was humor and sheer guts. I had told Gracie to ‘settle’ and she turned to lie on her side on top of a patio table. 'Doc’ sat talking to Gracie and gently rubbing her tummy, as he appeared absorbed in the moment with his furry therapist. He explored every inch of Gracie with large but very gentle hands, and she explored him right back, with sniffs and gentle nudges. What ‘Doc’ didn’t know was that when I tell Gracie to ‘settle,’ she starts to make guttural noises that I call ‘talking.’ This time was no exception and the conversation proved to be solely between Gracie and ‘Doc.’ I backed up as far as the leash would allow, so this time would be just for 'Doc.' 

After a few minutes, and words that I will never know, I asked 'Doc' where his strength comes from. “Everyday that I get out of bed and put both feet on the ground and stand up, the rest is pure gravy.” I looked at him and felt sure I could see a twinkle in his sightless eyes and a slight curl of  his lip. In the presence of this blind little dog, a sightless Marine double amputee shared his greatest gift with me…humor.

‘Doc’ is erasing everything that is bad and has opened a door into a place that is hopeful. ‘Doc’ will be okay. He has years of rehabilitation left, but will find his match in humor from Gracie’s visits. Gracie will be there for ‘Doc’ as long as he needs her. The good news is a guide dog is being trained for him when he returns to his home state. This of course, after he learns to walk all over again, on his ‘new’ legs.

As Gracie and I started to leave I gave ‘Doc’ a big hug and he whispered into my neck, “There is a reason I have been spared. There is a reason.” This morning as I stare at his photo on my desk,  I don’t doubt but what there is.

Things that we often look at as the end - can be the beginning.


"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls:  the most massive characters are seared with scars."
~Kahil Gibran~

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