Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Stone Dialogues


5:35 AM. We are walking the street outside my house, Stone and I. The morning is still black and two bright stars hang in the heavens in the east. The air is damp and cold. We walk down the street to the end of the block, cross over to the other side, and make our way back up the street. Stone smells the air and seems to relish the morning. I am not a morning person, but I feel strangely invigorated by our walk. “Morning is a metaphor for birth,” I whisper to Stone. “Each morning is like a chance to begin life all over again.” Without comment, Stone urinates voluminously on a tree.

He came into our lives on December 21, 2007, the first day of winter. He is eight years old, or 56 years old, or middle aged, any way you slice it. He is also overweight. Aside from this, he is in remarkably good shape, physically and mentally for someone who spent the last two years in prison and suffered a brutal attack by his brother. We rescued him.

4:59 PM. We are moving down the street at a brisk pace. I want to hit the two mile mark today. Stone moves rhythmically along by my side. But periodically, he stops suddenly and veers off onto the parkway to smell the grass and maybe even chew some. “That’s okay, Old Sport,” I say, resorting to the language of Jay Gatsby. “Salads are good for the diet, but you break my rhythm when you veer off so suddenly.” Stone ignores my comment, and I realize that it is the veering off onto paths unknown and never traveled, that makes all the difference. Has Stone been reading Frost? We move on.

We knew when he came to stay with us that he had family issues. His brother attacked him, ripping open his side from just below the spine to almost the center of his ribcage. It was, by the scars, a brutal fight. They were separated and Stone went to the hospital, never to see his brother again. They have not had contact. Stone feels he has made peace with the conflict and has moved on. We do not know what happened to the brother.

11:28 PM. We round the corner and nearly fall over a man and his dog out for a late night walk. The dog erupts in vicious snarls and Stone and I jump into the street to get away. The dog was not on a leash. Stone especially hates this and has no mercy for such irresponsibility. We stare down the dog’s owner until he pulls out a leather leash and attaches it to the canine’s collar. Only then do Stone and I rest easy. “Remind you of your brother, buddy?” I ask him gently. I usually do not bring up the subject with him. He does not like to think about it. He does not answer me, and I know to leave it alone.

Stone makes me walk. He demands that I exercise. I find that I have not lost much weight yet, but my mind is clearer, and I have time to think about things in my life. For instance, in a moment when I felt completely overwhelmed, I decided to give up this blog. Maybe I would give up writing altogether. On a walk with Stone I realized that writing is as much a part of me as reading. I would be lost without the physical act of writing, if for no other reason then to make sense of what I am thinking. I decided to stick it out and redouble my efforts. I feel so good when writing, like the floodgates are open and everything is flowing and smooth. It is too important not to give up when facing adversity. I discovered this one day on a walk with Stone.

3:23 PM. I am walking with Stone in the park. There are at least twenty soccer matches going on, and people are flying kites. Stone decides he likes soccer. He realizes that it is a popular sport in his native Germany. He stops by some players lounging in the grass and checks out a soccer ball. He likes it, but really prefers tennis. Actually, he does not like the game of tennis, just the balls. We move on. We pass a group of Emo teenagers sitting in a circle. One is playing a guitar. They have on the requisite jeans that cling tightly to their legs. The girls have on heavy eyeliner. Some are singing. Stone has no interest in them. “You do not like music, do you buddy?” I ask him. He says nothing, but I know the answer and smile to myself. I like to tease him. He is not happy when I play music at home. He will put his head under his blanket. He can barely stand classical music at extremely low volumes. He cannot abide loud noises. He made it clear that it was because of the prison—there was always too much noise there.

I am contemplating my teaching. It is that time of year when we begin thinking about next year and the changes to be made in course curriculum and methodology. So many books to teach, and so little time. I think I want to select fewer texts, but go more deeply into them. We need to do more close reading, more explication and analysis. I need to continue to teach my students how to formulate an argument. A revised list of texts is due in March so books can be ordered. I enjoy this process. Over the course of several walks with Stone, I bounce ideas off of him. He thinks I should teach more of the classics—Old Yeller, Sounder, Where The Red Fern Grows. He particularly likes that new book called Marley and Me.

6:03 AM. Stone is not afraid of anything. Even when dogs growl at him, and bring back memories of his brother’s attack, he stands still and endures it. He is also curious about his world, and this leads us into trouble. We are walking the streets in the early morning darkness when a disheveled woman lunges out of the shadows at us. She is carrying something shiny in her hand, either a knife or a broken bottle. “Hey, hey!” she yells. Stone freezes and stares at her. He wonders at the animalistic behavior of humans. He tries to decode her aggression. Where does it come from? Why is it directed at us, taking this early morning walk? I want to get the hell away from her. Stone resists my demands to run. Finally, he relents, and we move off rapidly down the street. The creature behind us gives up the chase. “Stone, why did you hesitate?” I ask him. “She could have hurt us.” He does not answer me. He lowers his head and continues down the street at a trot. I know what he is thinking. Life is inherently dangerous. One cannot avoid it. When death comes, or violence, or danger, one must stand and face it in order to overcome fear. He knows that his silence teaches me volumes. There is no need, in many cases, for dialogue.

In life, one must choose a teacher and choose a friend. I am lucky. Stone is both. I already dread the day when death will separate us. But I will cling to the memory of our walks and the unconditional love he has shown for me. Only I could adopt a middle-aged, overweight dog with family issues. We are kindred souls, this Weimaraner canine and I.

4:50 PM. We walk along the tide, Stone and I. He marvels at his feet getting wet, the ripples of the waves, the way the ocean reminds him of the edge of the world. He does not care for the water, but he comes to accept its mid-winter coldness, and he loves the birds soaring above him crying into the wind. They say dogs live in the moment. There is no past that they carry, and they do not worry about what is to come tomorrow. If this moment is happy, they are happy. I walk down the beach with Stone at my side. He is happy. I try to live in the moment, to soak up the fresh salt air and the roar of the sea. Stone is teaching me how to do this. And I am most grateful.