In a wheelchair beside the Nurses’ Station, a tiny old woman sits, eyes closed, lips parted, hands folded in her lap. Her head droops to one side. Ragged wisps of hair fall across her forehead. Her nightgown is rumpled, one slipper missing.
She is alone. Silent, but not asleep. Visitors pass, a staff member rushing by jostles her wheelchair but offers no apology. She doesn’t speak. Hours pass. No one notices. Until…
A small dog being led by a visitor stops, pulls at his lead and sits quietly at the woman’s feet. After a few seconds, the woman opens her eyes and raises her head. A smile steals slowly across her weathered face at the sight of the little dog. Her watery eyes twinkle. A surprisingly cheery voice breaks the silence. “Well, hello there! Aren’t you a pretty little thing?” A bony finger reaches down, strokes the little dog’s ear. He stands, reciprocates with a swift lick of his tongue, then sits again, looks up at her expectantly. They regard each other quietly. She reaches down and gently strokes his back.
She turns to the visitor, “Do you take good care of him?”
“Yes, I do, ” the visitor says.
“Well, make sure you do, now, ” she admonishes. Her soft voice carries a certain honeyed lilt, typical of that taught in finishing schools for genteel southern ladies.
“Don’t worry,” the visitor assures her, “I’ll take good care of him, I promise.” A few minutes pass as the woman talks quietly to the little dog.
Finally, she looks up at the visitor, “Thank you.” she says softly. “Can he come back sometime?”
“You’re welcome, “ says the visitor. “Of course! I’ll bring him to see you again.”
The woman smiles as the visitor and the little dog walk away down the hall.
I was the visitor, and the little dog was my Boston Terrier, Jake. I was humbled by his simple and spontaneous act of caring. My heart was heavy as I walked away, suddenly and acutely aware of the lonely, forgotten people around me; people who seldom if ever received visitors, whose lives had so little joy. I had been one of the guests rushing past. But what could I do? I didn’t know anything about her. What if I upset her? Besides I was busy with all the cumbersome paperwork and scheduling for my husband’s short-term physical therapy.
But, in fact….The entire episode lasted less than 5 minutes. No introductions were made, none needed. No approval forms were required, no money changed hands. A little dog simply administered the strongest medicine of all: love freely given with no thought of return. Can I do as much?