AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry:
The Silent Sister and a Tail-Wagging Dog
I got knocked over by our golden retriever Bogie this year.
Not the fall-to-the-ground knocked over; rather, the astonished-by-a-remarkable-act knocked over. Here’s what happened.
Bogie and I are in our third year of visiting the retired Sisters of Notre Dame in Wilton. Every other Monday, he leaps into the car, presses his nose to the window, and thumps his tail during our drive to this assisted living facility.
On this day, like all of our visits, the sisters had been waiting for us. All are of advanced age, living with chronic physical or mental conditions (or both), and look forward to when “the dog is coming.” A staff member organizes everyone into a large circle, where they sit and await our arrival. Participation is voluntary, and the sisters who partake are dog lovers, or likers, or just enjoy watching.
Following therapy dog protocol, I keep Bogie on leash and walk him inside the circle to each sister. With his tail wagging, he nuzzles hands, rests his head on knees, leans against wheelchairs and chairs, accepts petting and stroking, and, to the delight of all, takes an occasional break to noisily slurp water from a bowl that they provide. All of the sisters talk to him, praising his good looks, soft fur and peaceful nature.
Well, except for one. Sister M (for privacy reasons, let’s allow that to be her name) had been a regular for a couple of years. According to the staff, she never talks. She makes noises, but doesn’t speak. The doctors have no medical explanation for her silence (no, she wasn’t a Vow of Silence nun). Yet she always interacts with Bogie, and makes her noises to communicate with him.
Until this day.
Sister M was a minute or two into her time with Bogie. Their eyes were locked onto each other as she fondled his ears and stroked his head while his tail wagged like a metronome set to adagio tempo. Then, very quietly yet clearly, she asked him, “Do you love me?”
All of the sisters sucked in their breath in unison, as did the staff. I replied on Bogie’s behalf with a soft, “Of course he does, Sister M.”
I continue to marvel at this exchange between an elderly woman—with no living relatives, who gave her life to serving others — and a dog.
She could have said, “I’m cold!” or “My back hurts!” or “I want a tuna sandwich!” But she didn’t. She quietly asked a tail-wagging dog who was looking into her eyes whether he loved her.
I was knocked over, and still haven’t completely found my footing. For this magical exchange, and for Bogie, I am thankful.
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