In these uncertain days of suicide bombings and mass murders, it is extraordinarily reassuring for the rest of us to see just how often strangers reach out to help and comfort other strangers in moments of enormous stress and anxiety.
Not so long ago, I was sideswiped by another car that had run a red light. The two cars pirouetted swiftly to opposing gutters and as I got out of my car, unhurt, but shaken, a stranger carrying his daughter on his shoulders happened to be walking past.
As I gazed vacantly into the middle distance, unable to think about what to do next, I felt the pressure of his hand, huge and solid and weighty, resting for several moments on my shoulder. With that one comforting, soothing gesture, I came back to myself, felt the sun on my bak and the grateful realisation I wasn’t dead. He strode off then, his little daughter glancing back to smile.
Yesterday, I was given the same out of body comfort and support from our local postman. Paul isn’t exactly a stranger, in his green hi-vis vest and his face pancaked with sundress he’s instantly recognisable. Over the past eleven years he’s become the fount of all knowledge of births, deaths, and marriages in our area, and he knows the names of our dogs.
On Tuesday my little snub nosed, black and white haired dog died. Buddy and Paul first got to know each other as puppy and post way back then, when we started our daily walk around the block. Later, when he spied Paul’s hi-vis vest in the distance, Buddy would start to bark, but then wag his feathery tail and swing his long ears as he trotted past. Sometimes Paul would yell out “Hey Buddy!” just to get him started.
Buddy went to the Vet very early on Tuesday morning. He had methadone and drips and ultrasounds and x-rays and when I saw him later that day, all he could do was pant in grunts and show the whites of his eyes. It was obvious his heart and liver were failing and by 11pm that night my husband got out of bed to go and tell him that our whole family loved him and to stroke him and to pat him and to whisper in his ear that he was the best and truest little companion dog a man could ever hope to have and to help euthanise him.
Yesterday, over breakfast, I kept looking for him in his usual spots, lying nearby, waiting patiently for toast, but of course there was nothing, except for a mass of wet tissues lying crumpled on the table.
Later I went for a walk around the block because anything I read became blurry anyway and I want to think about why a dogs life was never celebrated in a secular sense, and mourning or grieving deemed ridiculous, even though dogs are always considered part of the family.
Across the road was Paul in his hi-vis vest and bag of letters. “walking solo today?” he queried. In response to my renewed flood of tears, he walked straight to me, arms out wide and we met in the middle of the road. As I cried and cried for a small sweet dog with a huge presence, Paul patted my back and made soothing, comforting noises. When we stepped back from one another, cars were banked up on either side waiting to pass.
Oddly, no-one seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere, and when the drove slowly past, as if at a wake, each stranger gave us a small knowing smile, some a little sad, as if they too, knew about Buddy.