Today I learned a lesson.
I usually try to learn a lesson every day, but lately I've felt like my mind has been shut. I guess I was overdue.
My wife I live out in the country, about 15 minutes from town. Across the creek (or crick if you prefer), there's a pretty big house with several dogs. Not that we'd ever been there, mind you, we could just hear the dogs barking in the wee hours of the morning. Anyway...
We were leaving the house today to head towards town when we spotted something unusual. A greyhound was sprinting around our yard at breakneck speed, followed by a gray old man. The man looked like he was pretty old, and there was no way he was going to catch this dog. There was a younger man who was helping him (his car was parked on the side of the road), but the two of them weren't making any progress. My wife and I were in a bit of a hurry, but we didn't have a place we had to be right away. It was more like, we wanted to be time-efficient. But it didn't seem right to let the poor old man chase this dog around, so I got out of the car to help him, and my wife followed me.
The four of us took about 20 minutes to catch this dog. We chased it all over the place. While we pursued it, I learned that the dog's name was Carrie, and that the old man lived across the creek, in the big house. He said he lived there with his daughter, and that the dog had escaped. He'd chased it all the way to our house, which was a pretty good distance for someone so elderly. Also, I had assumed the younger man was his grandson, but as it turns out, he was just a good samaritan.
Finally, we boxed the dog in, and my wife was able to get the dog still. The old man took off his belt and wrapped it around the dog's collar, making a makeshift leash. He thanked us over and over. The younger man waved at us and took off.
So this old man tells us that he's 90 years old, and that he's recently lost his wife. He's living with his daughter for two weeks at a time, during which he takes care of the animals. He says they have 6 dogs! He thanks us again and then mentions that he's got to take Carrie back to the house. I told him that it was too great a distance, and that I'd give him a ride. He smiled at us and accepted.
The dog didn't want to get in the car, but we were able to coax her, and the four of us went to the big house. Sure enough, the house was full of five yapping dogs, Carrie being the largest. They welcomed the old man but regarded us with suspicion. The old man was very nice to us, showed us his house, introduced the dogs, talked about his daughter, and gave us each a bottled coke from the fridge. He talked for a long time about his time when he was younger. As it turns out, he fought in WWII, as did his four brothers. He really lingered on his war stories, making sure we understood everything he said.
As he spoke, I remembered some advice my father gave me a long time ago. He told me that if I ever met someone who had fought for the US in WWII, or any war for that matter, I should thank them for their service.
Eventually, we looked at the time, and it was getting closer to 12:30pm. We had to get a move on. As we were leaving, we exchanged numbers, telling him that if he needed anything at all, he just had to ask. He smiled and thanked us for helping him with Carrie.
I told him that I was just repaying him, and then I thanked him for his service in the army.
For a moment, he stared at me with a soft expression, and then I noticed that he was tearing up. He told me I was good man and that I'd made an old man happy. In that moment, I felt like I'd done something very significant, and I admit, it felt nice.
As we got into the car to drive away, something occurred to me. I had helped the old man thinking that I was just performing a random act of kindness. But in a way, I was repaying him for something he had done for us, only he didn't know he was doing it for us at the time. I was repaying a sacrifice he had made, although the thing that I had done was very small and ultimately inconsequential.
I have learned a lesson about compassion today, and tonight, I will meditate on what I have learned. The Buddha said, "with our minds we make the world," and sure enough, my world has now changed for what I've discovered. From now on, the things I do will not mean the same to me. In the back of my mind, whenever I encounter someone, be they kind or angry, annoyed or patient, old or young, I will always wonder what thing they may have done for me, and if so, whether or not they know it, do I not owe them some favor in return?