Travels With Maggie: Afraid of Your Own Shadow
Are You Ready to Walk?
We’re going to talk about a rather serious topic on our walk today. I hope you don’t mind. I’ve been meaning to talk about this for quite some time but, as is my norm, I kept forgetting to do so. While on a recent walk with Maggie and Toby, I was once again reminded of my transgression, so I need to do it now while it’s still fresh in my old brain.
As always, if you plan on joining us, you can find us where the pavement ends and the wonder begins.
A Nervous Little Creature
Starting out on our walk, you will immediately notice a distinct difference between Maggie and Toby. Maggie moves like a hot air balloon, drifting lazily as the breeze moves her along, in no hurry whatsoever. Toby is a scud missile, and heaven help anyone or anything that stands in his way.
Maggie is, by nature, a nervous Nellie. She’s three-years old now, but, truthfully, she’s been afraid of her own shadow since she was a pup. Loud noises make her jump. Trucks approaching us from behind make her dart further from the road. As you can imagine, the 4th of July is a real test for my Maggie girl.
Toby slept through the fireworks last 4th of July.
Having said that, Maggie doesn’t even come close, with regards to nervousness, to a small dog we encountered on a recent walk. I don’t know the breed of that small dog, one of those miniature terriers, or a terrier mix, probably with a sprinkling of a few breeds. What was obvious from a distance, and even more so up close, was that dog was terrified while walking with its owner. He/she shivered with fear as we approached. He/she cowered as we pulled even, ten feet separating us, and his/her owner picked it up and whispered calming words.
I’m sorry we frightened your dog,” I said, even though Maggie was actually on her best behavior, not barking or acting threatening at all.
More whispering of soothing reassurances.
“It’s nothing you did. I got Princess from the shelter about a month ago. She had been abused by her former owner, so now she sees every stranger as a threat.”
Let me interject my own feelings at this point. People who abuse children and animals should be transported back to the Middle Ages and that particular brand of punishment. I would be fine with giving them fifty lashes, in public, or locking them away in the Tower of London for, oh, say twenty years. That may seem harsh, and I can certainly understand someone saying as much, but I have no compassion for abusers.
The Clinical of It
What Princess had was, of course, a form of PTSD, the same PTSD we speak about with regards to soldiers and rape victims and other survivors of abhorrent circumstances and/or events. How many there are is almost impossible to guess, but I feel safe in saying all of you reading this, right now, know some on a personal basis.
I remember so clearly back to 1962, driving with my dad one day, and passing a group of eight men, all dressed in suits, walking along the side of the road, heads down, not looking left or right, slowly shuffling towards the shopping district. I remember asking my dad about them, so strange a sight they were, and my dad telling me “those are World War 2 soldiers, Bill, who never returned home from the war.” His words seemed strange to me then; today I understand them quite well. There are some events which happen to humans which are simply too horrible for the mind to adjust to. Having a close buddy blown apart feet from you, that’s the kind of shit you just don’t shrug off, you know? Being beaten by a loved one will leave marks that never heal.
My uncle discovered the truth about PTSD in World War 2. He was discharged early because he was in a naval battle and came home “shell-shocked.” Therapy made him functional, but he then turned to alcohol, and for years fought those demons.
A girlfriend from long ago, raped as a teen, could not be intimate without all the lights on in the room and music playing softly in the background.
That little dog, Princess, incapable of walking with her new owner, without soothing whispers of reassurance along the way.
Stains on the soul!
Maggie and me, we pass a man sitting on his porch. Maggie greets him by squatting and peeing on this lawn. The man yells out, “could you please not have your dog urinate on my lawn,” and I sheepishly apologize and we move on, even though I’m seething just below the surface. Again, I’m transported back in time, living at 4022 North 18th Street in Tacoma, Washington, and Mister Streitz, our across-the-street neighbor, the meanest man I’ve ever met. Mister Strietz, Henry, would sit on his porch and yell at us kids daily. He would wait for one of our balls to roll onto his lawn and he would snatch up the ball and toss it in his garbage can. I lived across the street from that man for almost twenty years, and he was a miserable human being every single day of those twenty years, even mean to his wife and son.
My dad told me once that Mister Streitz fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War 2, pinned down with his company for two months, frigid winter weather, living in a muddy foxhole, shells exploding daily around them. He went into the war, by all accounts, a happy person. He came out bitter, angry, forever changed.
Stains on the soul!
We Are All so Fragile
We all walk a fine line between sanity and the demons of our soul. I’ve tried to remember that during my adult years, and that little dog along our walk once again reminded me of that fact. Children are not born angry. Puppies are not born afraid. Our personalities are formed over time. The way we respond to stimuli is determined by the way we were raised, for sure, but there can be, and are, events along our timeline which can be everlasting and crippling. It’s terribly simple and yet oh so complicated.
I am reminded of a line from a Dan Fogelber song: "When faced with the past, the strongest man cries."
I look at my Nervous Nellie dog, Maggie, and I pat her on the head. I get down on one knee, hold her face in my hands, and reassure her that all is well, that she is loved. It’s the least I can do for her. Really, it’s the least I can do for any animal, four-legged or two. A little understanding will go a long way. A little empathy will pay dividends along the Road of Life.
And you know what? I think Maggie understands what I’m telling her. She is more relaxed as we finish our walk, strolling and sniffing our way past the home with the swing set out front, past the beautifully-landscaped yard of an old retired couple, past the empty lot overgrown with blackberries and the empty barn losing the battle against age. I wave at a woman I see daily, she tells me how lovely Maggie looks, and we all smile, even Maggie, and all is well in my world once again.
Thanks so much for joining us. We’re back home now, back at the driveway, the end of the wonder for this day. We invite you to join us again on our next walk. All we ask you to do is bring a little understanding and empathy with you.
Maggie wags her tail. She enjoys your company.
So do I!
Stay safe, be happy, and blessings to you all.
2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
H.O.W. (Humanity One World)