Kali makes Don feel good. And that makes me feel good. Good for Don and good for Kali who is able to make a small difference for someone. Or so it seems.
Over the years there have been times I’ve felt guilty for having a so much when so many have so little. I feel as though I should be doing something grandiose to make a difference in the world or at least my community. It’s been many years since we’ve attended church regularly and even longer since I “went to confession”. But years ago, when the kids were young and we were quite involved in our Catholic church, I mentioned during a face to face confession with Father Steve that I struggled with the idea that my life was so good and so many people were suffering. I told him that it pained me to know there were people suffering all around the world and I was doing nothing to help them. On one had this “confession” was a little random but it represented both my guilt for doing so little and also my hope to be able to somehow do more. Steve was a great guy. A regular guy and a guy I admired and trusted. Priests are people and not all priests are great people. But Steve was and to this day I miss his homilies, the prayerful feeling he could invoke in me, and his practicality.
Father Steve told me to relax. He knew I was sincere and reminded me that I couldn’t fix the whole world in one fell swoop. Take small bites he said… He was right of course. He made me fell better and more importantly he helped me to understand that it’s the small things that can make a big difference.
There is a “farm house” along the trail Kali and I walk. It’s not really a farm house but it looks like one and when my kids were little they named it the farm house. Don lives in the farm house.
Don is an older gentlemen who hangs out on the side of the house, sometimes smoking a cigarette but mostly just looking around and killing time. Killing time that some older folks do when there is nothing much else going on for them. Months ago on one of our walks Kali and I stopped to introduce ourselves and since then when we pass by, if Don is out, I say “hello” or “good morning Don” and he usually replies, “how ya’ doin’?” To which I say, ‘Good Don. How are you”. “I’m ok” is his usual reply. It’s become apparent over the months that Don lives in the farmhouse with one of his children and grand children. It’s also become apparent that Don has early stages of alzheimer’s disease. I recognize it because both my mom and my aunt are in the early stages as well.
On a recent walk as Kali and I passed by the farm house on our way home we saw Don and I called out hello. He answered, “how ya’ doing?” I said “good” and continued walking along. As we passed by Don’s eyes followed us and I heard him say, “that’s it?”. I realized that Don was looking for something more than a hello. He was looking for a connection, a conversation. Don wanted to make sure he wasn’t invisible; that he was alive.
Later when I reflected on that brief interaction – or lack of it – Don’s words stuck with me. “That’s it?”
That’s it? That’s all there is? That’s all I get?
Since that day I’ve had several conversations with Don. If he’s out Kali and I make a point to stop and chat. I don’t know anything about Don’s life and I don’t ask him about it. Instead I make small talk about the weather or the trail and golf course he looks out on. Don makes nonsensical talk about his house and who lives in it, about the planes that are flying overhead, and asks where I live; how far down along the trail. Kali sits patiently while we talk. Don has always admired Kali. When Kali and I first started walking by Don would always comment about how pretty she was and what a good dog she was as we came to the street to cross as Kali sits and turns to me. He’d say, “Now that’s a good dog. That’s how a dog should behave”.
Today as we passed the Farmhouse Don was out doing his “thing”, which pretty much is doing nothing. It strikes me now that Don is cognizant enough to feel as though he is a burden and he knows he is in the final stage of his life. I don’t know if this makes his sad or not. He seems mostly content. Content. It’s a word my mom and aunt both use to describe how they feel. Not happy, not excited or sad, just content. I think Don goes outside to smell the fresh air and hope that someone on the trail will interact with him, say hello, and maybe – just maybe – stop for a minute to chat.
I was glad to see Don outside yesterday. I haven’t seen him much lately and I was concerned about him. It was about 7:30 am, a warm 70 degrees with clear skies and the smells of damp grass in the air from the creek and golf course. I love that smell. Kali and I walked up to Don and he greeted us. Don reached down to Kali and petted her, squeezed her neck with both arms while he put his face next to hers. Kali greeted Don with a major lick all around his face. Don, standing up and wiping his face says, “That’s ok, I’m ok with that”. He was beaming. Don felt alive. So alive he bent down again and Kali repeated the process.
We chatted for a few minutes. Don asked me where I lived. I told him down the trail about a mile. He looked surprised. Then he looked over his shoulder towards the farm house and said, “I live there?”. It was a question. I said, “yep, that’s your house”.
As Kali and I turned to begin walking back home Don reached down one more time to give Kali a pat on the head. He smiled broadly.
It’s great to know that on this beautiful morning in paradise that Kali made a difference in Don’s life. Or so it seems.