As I sit with my dog, I am thinking about a line taken from Mark Twain that reads:
“Man is the only animal that blushes — or needs to.”
I am thinking about the wholesomeness of his love, my dog, and the way he looks at me. He is an old dog. He does not run or jump the way he used to. In most cases, he has special needs, which means we have to help him.
Like humans, my dog has good days and bad—and there are times when I look at him and see the expression of love in his eyes. All he wants is attention. He has no ulterior motive. It doesn’t matter if I look good or bad. It doesn’t matter if I earned a promotion at work or if I find myself on the unemployment line. I could even smell bad or have bad breath and yet, to my dog, there is literally nothing undesirable or unsightly about me.
There was a speaker discussing whether dogs have feelings or not. He was discussing anxiety in animals and how medication works for them the same as medication works for humans.
I listened to a story told by Carl Safina about elephants in the wild and how researchers took recordings of tourists talking back and forth—and then they took another recording of poachers that hunted the elephants.
(I am paraphrasing a bit but still, you’ll get the drift.)
When the researchers played the audio of tourists, the elephants were unmoved but when the researchers played the audio of the poachers, the elephants responded in fear. This means the elephants were able to understand and decipher between threat and safety.
My favorite explanation about anxiety is relating this to a deer in the woods. The deer is doing whatever it is that deer will do, eating, walking around or whatever. Suddenly, the deer hears a sound — their ears lift up because they sense danger. The sound happens again and this time, the deer runs away to find safety.
Here is where we differ from the animal kingdom. Once the deer finds safety and runs to a place where the threat is gone, the deer goes back to doing whatever it was the deer was doing before — eating, walking around or whatever. The one thing the deer is not doing is reliving the fear or the need to run again, even after the threat is gone. The time for flight or fight is over. There’s no need to carry the insult around or relive the fact that something or someone has imposed upon their moment.
On the other hand, people are not like this. We relive, rethink and we often rehearse the intrusion with a narrative in our mind that follows us around — and although the time for flight or fight is over, our mind is still in “Red-Alert.” Hence, we take on the chemical reactions of fear and irrational thinking.
Meanwhile, the deer is going on about its life and us — well, we’re a bit more complex because we are mixed up with our own agenda. We are caught up in our own mind and challenged by our assumptions and quick to jump to conclusions. We hold resentments. Our ego is too loud to stop its internal monologue. But animals don’t do this. We are insecure and often struggle to believe if we are “Enough” and we literally personalize everything. Animals don’t do this.
Of course, one might argue that animals are less-intelligent than humans. I can say that animals are intelligent enough to know how to survive in the wild. They have a better understanding of real danger and supposed danger. We assume. We judge too often and even with all of our technology and with everything at our command, we are the struggling species.
I do not know what it means to parent a child with special needs. I do not understand what someone who is non-verbal is thinking or feeling. I might have an idea. I might think I know but since the person is non-verbal — I can never say that I know or that I absolutely understand.
I was on the train one night. I was headed home on the railroad, which was crowded. This was life in the pre-pandemic era, which means people squished in the trains like sardines in a can. This was my life for a very long time. There was something in the city that caused the train to be more crowded than usual.
I was sitting in a three-seater, which, as it sounds is exactly what it is. There is the window seat, the middle, and the aisle seat. Across from me on my right was a group of kids in the five-seater, which are two seats with the backs facing the direction of travel and three seats facing the direction of travel.
There were five kids. They were loud and obnoxious; all of them young men that were somewhere around the ages of anywhere between 17 to 19 years-old, give or take. Sitting next to me in the middle seat was a small young boy. He was non-verbal, autistic, and not sitting still by any means. However, due to the boy’s so-called disability, I said nothing and simply endured. I noticed the five young teens laughing, which to me seemed as if they were laughing at the boy. They might have been but they hadn’t outwardly said anything. I promised myself that if they did, I would quickly address them, loudly and perhaps aggressively. Who were they to pick on this boy? They had everything they needed. They didn’t have any disabilities.
Somehow, the boy took notice of them. He motioned to his mother who was sitting in the window seat. She was often apologizing to me for her son’s constant moving about. He motioned to his mother again and she asked, “Do you want to draw?” She gave her son a blank paper and his colored crayons with something to lean on so he could color. The boy drew all of the five young men in the five-seater across from us. He did not draw them perfectly but it was clear who was who.
The boy drew each person in the same colored clothes they were wearing. Once the boy finished, which did not take long, he leaped out from the seat and walked over to the five people that were sitting in the five-seater. Without a word, he offered them his drawing. They were all taken aback, stunned and then supportive.
I moved to allow the non-verbal boy to sit back in his seat. He looked at me. Then he took out the foil from a piece of gum, folded it back perfectly and slid the silver foil back into the blue gum wrapper and then he offered this to me.
Somehow, it seemed as if he knew. He didn’t have to say anything nor did I have to threaten anyone to stop making fun. This young boy whose power of communication by far outweighed my skillset, with just a few colored crayons, he managed to defuse and right the wrongs of a situation that didn’t need to be blown out of proportion. I’ll never forget that.
I kept that wrapper for a very long time to remind me of how with all of my strengths and abilities, sometimes, I am not the dominant species that I think I am.
When I was a kid, I remember teachers would say, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
I think about this from time to time. I think about what they might have been trying to say — that it is shameful not to utilize all of what I have because there are people with less, and yet, I complain or bitch and moan or quit and cut my nose off to spite my face.
Maybe teachers said this because we knew the difference between right and wrong, and yet selfishly, we still chose to do the wrong things anyway.
I think about the line from Mark Twain.
Man is the only animal that blushed—or needs to.
Sure, I blush sometimes.
And I know why too.
This is what happens when we know that we are capable of better and yet, somehow, we allow ourselves to defy our potential.
My goal today is to reach my best potential.
I want to be more like those in the world who without a word can show how brilliant they truly are.