Thursday, February 4, 2010
SO THIS IS HOW YOU PRAY
Animals teach children friendship, loyalty and kindness and, if we are lucky, gentleness. When the two of them meet there is an immediate bond - a bond that evokes a sense of security, peace, pleasure and understanding. Words have little to do with these emotions, nor are they necessary. It is quite simply a listening to the heart. Friends have suggested that this is because of the innocence of both, or perhaps children are just closer to God.
It seemed a miracle occurred, or perhaps an affirmation of what I had been told, when Gracie and seven year old Nathan met at the Fisher House at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Nathan’s dad had been injured in Iraq. Nathan and his mom and dad were living in this temporary 'home away from home', just until ‘dad gets better.’ The family had asked if I would take this opportunity to get a photo of Nathan and big old huggable, loveable Irish Wolfhound, Zoe, to give to the family. After breakfast on this Saturday morning seemed like a perfect time.
The room was full of residents watching television, kids, moms, wives in the kitchen, and several wheelchairs with our wounded heroes, balancing plates of scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon on their laps, as they headed out the door to the courtyard on this warm spring morning.
The best photos of kids and dogs are a stroke of luck! I had whispered to Nathan that I wanted to get some pictures of the two of them together, as a surprise gift for his dad for Father’s Day. Familiar with cameras, he instantly began to pose with his arm around Zoe’s neck. Much preferring spontaneous photographs, I told him to ignore me and just play with Zoe. The multiple shots I took each featured either a blurred dog or blurred little boy. I had just about decided to give up when things took a big turn.
Nathan, in his yellow t-shirt, khaki shorts and barefeet, turned to see Gracie. Gracie turned on her side and Nathan quietly kneeled down and began petting her tummy. Soon he lay down on the floor next to her. With Nathan’s hand still on Gracie’s tummy, noses touched tenderly. In the center of this room of noise, while wheelchairs passed by and multiple conversations took place, a pure and basic exchange was occurring. It was as if Gracie and Nathan were inhaling each other in a most intimate way. To have a camera in my hand and to observe this exchange felt almost intrusive. But I couldn’t stop the shutter.
For several moments, the world of adults, words, abstractions, and war seemed to float somewhere above Nathan and Gracie. Gracie would gently place her nose on Nathan’s nose. They both lay perfectly still. No words were ever spoken. Nathan gazed deeply into Gracie’s near sightless eyes with the slightest smile on his face, as he stroked her fur. Gracie’s little tongue slowly came out and like a whisper touched Nathan’s nose. Nathan slowly moved closer to her and, as if there was nothing else in the world for either of them, Nathan placed his chin in his hand and rested his elbow on the floor and inches away from Gracie just stared deep inside this little dog. Then he slid down on his side, as their noses remained in constant contact.
I found myself choking back the lump in my throat as a crowd formed a circle of soldiers, families, Nathan’s mom and grandfather to witness this extraordinary exchange. Time had stood still for a moment, for what I am certain will be one of the most unexpected and exceptional moments of my life.
This little boy, with his daddy’s brown hair and soft eyes, has been through so much and on this day before Mother’s Day, he unknowingly gave me a gift of monumental proportions - a gift of being able to witness love and innocence in its purest form.
I wanted to tell his father that I was grateful for his sacrifice and for one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.
Next Saturday I will. This day belonged to Nathan and Gracie.
“I was thinking: So this is how you swim inward, so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.”
~ Mary Oliver~
"Be still! Your unconscious is trying to talk to you!"
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