How many times have we not wished we'd spoken up? The dastardly deed takes place before us, the thing being said is harmfully wrong, the person about to make a mistake might be redirected. But we do not speak up, intervene, correct, step out of our own comfort zone. We demur. Such was my cowardice, this winter week of December, 2011.
On the beach the playful golden Labrador was perhaps only three or maybe even two years old. Although I could not discern his features, the dog's master was about my age, a man in his early sixties, late fifties, tall, grey bearded, wearing a woolen toque and black leather gloves, with a thick parka zipped against the wind. Even at a long distance he appeared a friendly enough sort; there was no aura of dominance, aggressiveness, nor even stand-offishness about him. In his right hand he sported a white sling-throw sort of oversized sausage-shaped flotation appended to a short rope, the which he lifted, twirled in an arc, then helicoptered above his head. The dog eyed it and jumped eagerly about. And then the man let it loose, and it zoomed up and away, straight out into the onrush of the frigid sea. The dog hurtled down the beach, hesitated for the slightest moment, then plunged in after the contraption. The tide was already taking the white floater out, but the dog swam, gained on it, grabbed it, gagged slightly in the salt water, then churned back. And within moments they both were ready to do it again.
Bits of intermittent sunshine reflected off washed up logs, glinted off rocks, layered itself in the foam of the ocean. But it was generally a cold gray day. I'd already walked some thirty minutes by the time I saw them, dog and man. My being there was something of its own miracle; it was the first long walk I'd taken in over eight years. Back in 2003 when I crushed my discs, my hiking days were over. And power-chairs do not handle beaches, nor do push-chairs for that matter. Ever tried riding a bicycle in deep sand? But over the last three months I've gradually increased my endurance, and though I cannot escape the nerve-pinching, the jolts and stabs and burning, there was a thing about the length of that beach that lured me along. Besides, many tossed-up logs against the shoreline provided resting spots, and the isolation from people allowed me time to meander at my own pace, step after step. I still had about twenty minutes back to the car to make. But I did not see myself easily stopping to talk to the man and his dog, even though I might've leaned heavily on my cane, there being no log right there for me to rest on where he was busy doing his throwing.
There was a certain courage in that dog. He evidently loved to chase after the throw-thing, despite the frigid water. There was a certain courage in my walking; I love to hike despite the payment my body exacts on me. Better to be there and to do, than not to be, in my mind. But does the dog know that it most likely will suffer from arthritis and joint discomfort at an early age due to the extreme temperature? Would the dog make a different choice if it did know? And more importantly, would its master? I should have told him. I could have told him. Cowardice! I've read enough, seen enough to speak with authority, with kindness; to be seen to come from compassion. But in that moment, albeit in the yoke of my own circumstances, I threw my golden chance away. And now, do I just wish to have done differently, or do I go plunge in and alter the future, hm?