I’m big on appreciating formative moments in my life; those times when a person, a circumstance, or an occurrence makes an impact so indelible that it will stay with me for years to come. I refer to these as the finger prints of others. Rarely a day passes without me reflecting on some of the fingerprints others have left on my life through the years.
From profound tragedies, to near-death experiences, to simple observations or words of wisdom that people have offered me through the years, the fingerprints of others have shaped who I am – because I allow them to.
In the past couple of months two occurrences took place that fall into this category; formative moments that I won’t let go of anytime soon.
There, But For The Grace…
Last week I was walking my dog on a well-manicured greenbelt in-between a sea of suburban dwellings clad in stucco and topped with ceramic roofs. Well out of his place, my dog and I were approached by what appeared to be a homeless man, unkempt and not walking too well – perhaps drunk.
As the man got closer, my dog, who has barked or snarled less than a dozen times in his 9 years on earth, began to growl at him. It also appeared, as he got closer, that he was well beyond drunk. Barely able to walk, but he headed our way intentionally – perhaps to ask for money.
My dog, Stroodle, sneered more as the man approached. I had never seen this behavior from him before. The homeless man, I suppose because he may have been in fear, kicked at Stroodle. Understand, he did not kick him, he only kicked at him. However, as Stroodle’s steward in this life, my protector instincts took hold and I punched the man in the chest. Not to be mean, but to keep him from hurting my dog.
The man fell to the ground and began crying. He was a sad wretch with bloodshot eyes, in filthy clothing, with no apparent direction, and then he was crying – and I had just hit him.
I attempted to help him up, but he refused. He then turned away from me, and staggered off in another direction leaving a scent of body odor and alcohol that would stay with me for a few more hours. As he was ambling away, Stroodle kept growling at him.
In the same scenario I would do this again – protect my dog using minimal force — but what was minimal…? I can’t let go though, of the grown man on the ground crying at what I had done, though I know he was probably crying over much more.
I couldn’t help wonder where the man had been, what had lead him down this path, and where he might end up that day – or any day. There, but for the grace…
A Pee, A Picture, And A Pistol…
I had been traveling from Denver to the San Diego area last month helping a friend relocate her belongings. Rather than see her pay movers, I volunteered to load and drive a 26’ truck across the American west, with my friend and her dogs as the chase team. She was on a budget and I needed a road trip. It was a good fit.
On morning #2 of our trip we left Richfield, Utah as the sun rose. Just a quick stop for gas, and my obligatory 12-pack of Diet Coke to caffeinate the long haul ahead, and we were soon on the road. After an hour or so, I needed to make room for more Diet Coke by releasing that which I had already consumed.
We were clipping through the red clay and green scrub about an hour north of Cedar City, Utah when I spied travel complex with a large rainbow canopy above the gas pump islands. No city, no town, no other signs of civilization – just a gas stop alone in the desert. As I pulled into the complex, my friend followed me. It was soon evident that the travel plaza was no longer in business, just a truck stop ghost town. To a guy like me, that’s a playground.
Since we didn’t need gas or food, and I still had to pee, I decided to give the place my business just the same. That’s when my inner child got the better of me, and I decided to explore and photograph the abandoned buildings of the complex – something I do frequently cross-country trips.
As I photographed one of the abandoned gas islands, a small SUV approached me at a decreasing speed until it came to a halt beside me. A man in a shirt and tie, but with no coat was behind the wheel. He had mirrored sunglasses that looked more like 2 compound eyes.
“I’m going to ask you to leave” the man said in a whisper. “This is private property”.
Me being me, I asked him if he was a representative of the owner, and if so could he prove it. I turned and continued to photograph some broken glass outside one of the structures.
“Hey” he shouted, “I am the owner!” That’s when I looked down to see a small handgun pointed at me.
Ok, I said. I’ll be moving on. No further words were exchanged.
I walked slowly back toward the 26’ truck where my friend was waiting outside her car, giving her dogs some water. I explained that we should get going, but said nothing of the man with the gun – since he had been out of her sight the entire time, and I didn’t wish scare her.
Up in the truck, back on the road, and still trembling from my experience, my eyes spent equal time divided between the road in front of me, and my side view mirrors for the next several hours. I would not see the man with the small SUV and the compound eyes again.
So Many Changes In Such A Short Time…
Despite my military service, and hanging out with some questionable characters in my young adult life, I had never before stood at the barrel of a gun facing back at me. Not for a moment did I think the man would pull the trigger, but afterward I could not let go how the life of my daughter might have changed if I had made one more sarcastic remark that could have put him over the edge. I continue to wrestle with that one. A fingerprint on my life, to be sure.
Last week I punched a homeless drunk in the chest, only to see him fall to the ground and cry. Yes, I was defending a helpless animal, but I had to hurt a person in order to help a dog. Another fingerprint from which to learn, and yet another wrestling match to take place in my head.
It is the fingerprints of others, as much or more than my own actions through the years, that have shaped who I am and who I am still to become. Like fingerprints on a doorknob accruing over time, the person I am today is much dirtier than the man I was 20 years ago. Of course unlike the doorknob, the fingerprints left on my psyche aren’t dirt so easily washed away. The dirt stays with me because I allow it to. In this case though, let’s not call it dirt – let’s refer to it character. Be well… rc
please take a moment to scroll up and rate this. thank you.
Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Ry Cooder. Enjoy!