Last week I found K and his dog, Sam, in a Starbucks outside area, shivering in a very cool pre-winter breeze. In conversation I found that K had hitch-hiked down from Alaska seeking to see his daughter, but had been rebuffed from this by his ex-wife, who sent him away.
K is a roofer and general handyman by trade. His dog, Sam, a girl dog, is a cross between a Labrador, a Husky and, according to K, quite possibly a Rhodesian Ridgeback. They both looked very tired, extraordinarily tired.
Why can’t there be a Starbucks for people with pets?
About five years old, Sam is K’s friend as well as his beloved pet, even fending off a bear in the wilds of Washington state on a mountainside. A fearless dog! K had been camping in the woods between Salem and Kaiser and there, Sam had an encounter with another beast, an unknown beast. She had been bitten – and a bloody scar marked the white fur on her breast. It didn’t look good.
I drove the two of them to the emergency vet on Market Street. There Sam had a drain inserted and stitches made. A transparent funnel was manufactured to keep her from chewing herself into more damage, and painkillers prescribed.
I took the pair to a local motel and let them be still for a couple of days. I can’t imagine the mental state and exhaustion that they were in. They slept and slept. But they slept in warm motel air in safety and peace.
On the third day I collected them from the motel and invited them back to our house, where they slept more. If you are wondering what my wife thought of this, that would be a good wonder to have — she wasn’t too happy with the improvisational nature of this.
My wife doesn’t like surprises and I am grateful that she saw the need of this, the mercy of this and the tenderness of this. The world is full of brokenness and there are foolish athletes of the spirit who climb around a quarter of the globe to reunite with a daughter’s love. I believe such an athlete of the heart and spirit deserves our concern, despite the obvious fact that it appears to be a fool’s errand in the first place. This young man would lay his life down for the life for his daughter, even; I believe for the life of his ex-wife. Maybe even for your life.
The realist, seeing a little girl picking up a starfish stranded on a beach among thousands of other starfish, questions her judgment. “What difference can this make?”
“It makes a difference for this starfish,” she says in a forthright way. It’s an old joke. It’s also amazingly true.
We cannot save the world by ourselves, but God has made the world a place that can be saved by merciful people working with each other. One person at a time. God has made his presence invisible, save for the visibility of mercy and love working in the hearts of those who have little else.
This week has seen a political circus full of greed and lust for money, a circus car of people using our great democracy to take money that had been volunteered to provide for the wellbeing of the poor and they have taken it and committed it for the greater wellbeing of the well-heeled. It is a Nero moment in our nation’s history.
In the meantime, the poor man, protected by his wounded dog on the mountain and forests, the poor man who served in the U.S. Navy, is struggling down the pathways of the Northwest to see his child and there is no place for him to go and sleep or receive mercy or aid. His God and his dog travel with him. He is a Pentecostal man and prays each step of the way. This man and people like him are around us if we only look with the eyes of our Father.
Colin Brown is the former pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boardman.