Momentary Smiles

We walk along Fellsmere Pond and I spot an elderly man sitting on the bench.  His head is down and I make up that he is perhaps lonely.   Mario Antonio Doodle walks by my side, sniffing all that he can along the side of the pond… not yet aware of the man on the bench.   As we approach, the man looks up and I see his face light up as he spots Mario — ahh…. he is a dog-lover.  And, Mario notices too — he senses a friendly being and wants to say hi.   We approach and Mario sits in front of the man… stretching his nose out to sniff, wanting to lick his hand, and bowing his head for a scratch.   As the man scratches Mario’s neck, he comes alive in that moment and smiles broadly, his eyes twinkling.  “Oh, what a good dog,” he says.

This happens a lot along Fellsmere Pond…  now there are various people who call out “Mario!” when they see him coming around the bend.    As much as I try to prod Mario into becoming an ace frisbee dog and agility champ – his true gift is simply eliciting smiles and creating moments of joy in people’s lives.  

And so, I made it official…. took a class and exam to get him certified as a Therapy Dog.  No rigorous obedience or tricks required, simply a loving stable friendly presence.   


I had some doubts today as I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic making our way to visit four of Mario’s new “clients” at Marina Bay.  Each an elderly patient in a hospice setting, each approaching the end of life.   I suspected that the bigger challenge would be with me, not with Mario.   I felt unsure of how to be and what to say.

I learned that my role in this is secondary — I am the handler and facilitator.  I can help to set the stage and manage the interactions — but my biggest job is to be unobtrusive and stay out of the way.   What if the patients feel uncomfortable?   What if I don’t know what to say?   I noticed pretty quickly that Mario did not seem to have any of these apprehensions on his mind — he just showed up being himself.

We’re back home now after visiting with four patients.  I find myself with tears welling up, which I cannot entirely explain.   We spent perhaps a total of 45 minutes actually visiting with patients.  Of those 45 minutes, the patients probably spent 30 of them lost in their own world, unresponsive.  It is the other 15 minutes that moves me deeply.  For each patient, there was a moment of coming alive… of coming present…. of having a brief encounter with this pooch named Mario.   A minute of remembering and telling me about that dog that they had.   A momentary smile lighting up their face. 

I am grateful for the gift that they each gave to me today — the gift of remembering who we are, just for an instant.  And of reminding me once again that this moment is the only moment that we have.

~ by Art on July 2, 2014.

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