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Craft essays, short works
Craft essay in October 2015 Brevity
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Lost Souls on a Hot, Black Tarmac

August 18, 2013

Tags: Homeless Pets, Homeless Women, Protective Dogs, The role of an artist, Kurosawa

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Last Friday, I spent the day lounging on our boat at City Dock in Annapolis. It was a beautiful day, clear, in the seventies with almost no humidity- a rare thing in August in Maryland. Around 2:00 in the afternoon, a white Ford Taurus drove into the parking lot across from the boat slips and pulled into a space opposite our boat. The driver, an older woman, did not get out of her car. After about an hour, she let a dog out - a Black Lab mix with a graying muzzle. The dog remained on leash and sat in the shade of the open car door at her mistress' feet. And there they sat. And sat.

Worried that the dog might be thirsty, I left the boat and walked over to offer a bowl and some water. As I approached the car, the dog jumped to its feet and growled/barked ferociously. Honoring the dog's protectiveness, I got close enough to see that the car was loaded to the gills with stuff. It looked like she and the dog were living in the vehicle. I shouted from a distance "Do you need water?" not even sure she could hear over the barking. She held up a plastic gallon of water and shook her head. "Thanks," she mouthed.

The other boaters who had seen what happened commented on the close call, the bad dog, but I understood completely. The woman was vulnerable and this dog was doing its job.

Throughout the afternoon, I kept an eye on them, conscious that every time I looked, the woman was aware of my gaze, which seemed to make her nervous. I contemplated giving her some money, but couldn't figure out how to get close enough to make the exchange.

Around dinnertime, still thinking of a way to get her money, I looked out over the parking lot. The car and the dog were gone.

As night fell, people came and went with their ice cream cones and vacation t-shirts and laughing children. The boaters were relieved the woman was gone and the tourists no longer had to confront her inconvenient presence. But I could not get the image of the sagging, sad woman and her nervous dog out of my mind.

Kurosawa said, "The role of an artist is to not look away." That's a hard thing to do. Once home, I sat in meditation and sent peace to her and her dog and all beings like them. It didn't feel like enough. I thought of going back to see if she returned so I could do something - maybe paste that twenty under her windshield, anything to lessen the pain of seeing and knowing the immense suffering in the world.

This is why people look away. And this is why I write. It doesn't change that woman's life. It doesn't change her dog's. But it changes mine. In the end, it's the only thing we can really do.


  1. August 18, 2013 5:25 PM EDT
    Wonderful Janice.
    - Jeri Meinking
  2. August 26, 2013 11:51 AM EDT
    What do Buddists say about a situation, suffering like this? I think part of writing about it is to transform it. Whose to say it does reach back, stretch forward, touch in ways we don't comprehend.
    - Connie
  3. August 26, 2013 1:42 PM EDT
    The way I have been taught, you start with the aspiration to lessen your own suffering and then extend that wish for healing and peace out to others. I like that about Buddhism, that we start with ourselves, because it is only when we have compassion for ourselves that we can give it to others. And yes, I believe that their are many ways in which our actions affect the world - the butterfly effect.
    - Janice Gary