Compassion is a Universal Possibility

Below is an excerpt from Outside the Circles, in production.


Burnese DogDogs. Cavorting in a pretty little Austin green space. A Swiss Bernese Mountain Dog, large and brown, with her French buddy, an unclipped black pocket poodle; a pair of Tervurans, Belgian perhaps, one on a leash and the other – a brindle Terv? A small white whippet with one big black spot on her rump romping with two Harlequin Great Danes, each as big as my grandmother (a Dane), and each white with raggedy patches of color that look like someone had flung black paint at them from a full brush. A Japanese Akita and a German Rottweiller and a Weimeraner and a Dachshund. Several varieties of terriers and retrievers of British heritage: and a Catahoula hound of American pedigree, from right here in the South and, even more obviously American, a long-haired, long-legged pitbull puppy with a puff of fluff on the end of its tail who loved everything in concentric and eccentric high-speed circles. And of course my Scotch, whose herd-dog ancestors crossed over from Australia, or maybe Scotland.

Scotchy never did much like dogs; she prefers children. And now that she is half blind and mostly deaf, and maybe in some variety of heart failure, I discouraged the approach of either. All the other dogs were polite, and Scotchy and I were content to sit over our lunch watching their doggy social event. They sniffed each other, front and back, played in the cheerful little hill-country stream, and generally enjoyed each other while their activities initiated similar conversations among their owners.

People. Hispanic workmen, housewives, the guy who is fixing the gate to the low water crossing, high-school boys playing soccer, nice little old men and chubby little old women, and lots of college students. Dogs and people were so pleasant and courteous, thoughtful and considerate, you’d have thought it was a California beach, and you knew it couldn’t last much longer.

A sudden squabble erupted between the brindle Tervuren and the long-legged, longhaired pitbull. At least, the Tervuren was squabbling. The pitbull seemed unaware of anyone’s problem. He spun and circled and splashed heavy-footed through the shallow water, always just out of reach of his owners, the tervuren’s owner, and the tervuren. People, attracted to the central source of energy, jumped to offer fruitless help or circled round, accompanied by their own dogs, to watch the excitement and give freely of their advice.

Scotchy and I watching from our table at the top of the hill, were the only ones to notice, off to one side, a young man very slowly and carefully negotiating his motorized wheelchair along the little path that led down the hillside toward the creek. His shoulders were permanently slumped toward the controls, his bare feet did not sit on the pedals, but stuck out before him, swollen and inflamed. He focused intently on the manipulation of his wheelchair and seemed not to notice the social event at water’s edge, of which he could not be a part.

Only the Bernese Mountain dog watched the painful progress of the wheelchair down the hillside. She turned away from the dog/people game, left the side of her owner, and moved slowly toward the chair-bound man. The man stopped his wheelchair, watching the dog. Slowly the large dog approached the wheelchair. For just an instant, man and dog looked each other straight in the eyes and then, ever so gently, as though she were reaching to touch a baby, the great dog greeted the man’s puffy pink hand with her nose. Tentatively, and equally as gently, the man laid his hand on top of the soft, square head, as she delicately rested her chin on his lap. Man and dog might as well have been alone together.

Until the owner noticed that her dog was missing, turned to look, saw the two together, and rushed to apologize: “Oh, is she bothering you, stop Gretchen, I am so sorry, is she bothering you?”
The dog turned away and the man continued to drive his wheelchair down the path.

The best photographs are those that I did not take because the events happened in a unit of time so small and discrete and private, and so dependent upon what came before and after, that — like electrons of matter or photons of light — these tiny subunits of time could not be contained. And so the event is forever lost in time past.

But I wonder, as I write about this event of yesterday, if the young man awoke this morning remembering the feel and the smell, and the feather-touch love of that large dog.
I did.

And so the event is not forever lost. It may even have been magnified times two, or three including the dog. Maybe the essence of such events has nothing to do with time. Maybe they instead exist in some field of infinity — like tiny subunits of infinity — infinitrons, that can not be contained but infinitely exist. Maybe our photographs are only clumsy temporal attempts to capture unrecordable infinitrons?