Two and a half years ago, I was walking the family English Golden Retriever through our rural neighborhood. It had only been a couple of months since my Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery, and I was having difficulty relaxing and reaching a rhythm as my pooch pulled, then abruptly stopped to sniff, jerking the leash painfully against the still tender battery implants in my chest.
I was frustrated. Unable to exercise except for these walks, becoming stir crazy in my house and the inner workings of my mind, I was frozen in will trying to sort out this new under the skin surgical miracle-world of electrodes and wires. I was literally reaching the end of my rope with each tug of the leash.
Approaching the community pond, a familiar form shuffled toward me. It was a large man, disheveled and unshaven with the vaguely menacing air and cautiously furtive manner of one of society’s outcasts. I immediately knew who he was.
I had seen him along the road numerous times over the years on his way to and from visiting a friend, perhaps his only friend in the world, an older lady who lived by the water. He was well known in the community, having sparked an outcry about ten years earlier when it was learned that he was a registered sexual offender.
His crime had been as severe as they came: the rape of an adult woman in another county some 20-30 years ago. He had spent time in prison and was only eventually released under the permanent official labeling of the State’s sexual predator statute. That was all I knew of him.
As one deemed “likely to re-offend,” any community he attempted to reside in—for the rest of his life—would receive law enforcement and neighbor notification of his presence. He had visited the elderly lady for years, occasionally being picked up and evicted by Sheriff’s Deputies after he crossed a legal threshold in his stay that met the criteria for an unreported residence.
Several days earlier, an electrical fire had erupted at the lady’s home in the middle of the night, killing the woman and allowing the man to barely escape with his life. I assumed that he had come back to the ashes to pay his respects before leaving for who knew where.
In the past, I had allowed a distant nod in passing to the man, willing to give him the benefit of the doubt so many years after paying a debt to society that, despite releasing him, still permanently labeled him. It just seemed cruel to technically offer the man a free life, but one with strings attached that guaranteed that he would be rigorously tormented forever.
But to be fair, I knew very little about the circumstances surrounding his earlier conviction. Maybe he deserved a life sentence or worse; maybe not.
“Good morning,” I said, feeling uneasy as he walked out of our upper-middle-class community with nothing but his ragged clothes and a small backpack after losing his only friend in the world.
He surprised me by answering in a strained voice, as if unaccustomed to speaking, “How wonderful it must be to just walk where you like with your dog.”
I replied, suddenly deeply ashamed at how ungrateful I had become, “Yes, it is.” I often think of that man, sometimes wondering what happened to him.
And I ponder his words, marveling at the beauty that can be found in a simple act such as walking the dog: two creatures tenuously connected in a vast and lonely world if only by a leash and the occasional affectionate nuzzle.