Even if they appear to be unworthy
He is a man of few words. I see him on my morning or mid-day walks with the dog and he doesn’t wave — doesn’t make small talk — just grunts an uneven hello and shoots his eyes up toward the sky. I never pry. I don’t look for things I don’t need to find. Perhaps this is his way of survival. He walks two dogs; one, a noisy son of a bitch, the other, a genteel sweet body of patchy fur. The dog stares at them, huffs her approval, and paces off in another direction. This is ritualistic for us. Me with my limply left lower limb — she with knees that pop and ache when the weather isn’t warm. We push through the neighborhood that has shaped our lives for the last four autumns.
The noisy son of a bitch spends time on his balcony alongside the genteel sweet body of patchy fur. I guess he puts them outside to get away from them — to give them some sense of unity and comfort with their surroundings. However, we, my neighbors and I, endure intermittent cycles of loud barking. I know what it’s like to have a dog misbehave when all you want is for him or her to behave — to provide solace and peace. But a dog will be a dog, and if given the opportunity, he or she will bark. He’s speaking. He’s announcing who he is, and we all had better pay attention. But on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon, it’s the last thing I want to hear.
Nosy neighbors will open their mouths.
Someone, at one point, must’ve slid their lips into the ears of the property manager because for a few weeks — nothing. I thought the man had moved. I was wrong. He is still here. The noisy son of a bitch still barks loudly intermittently and I am growing used to it, but I wonder . . . should I? Where did the man come from and what is it in him that allows him the ability to not care about his community? Don’t get me wrong, I won’t assume he isn’t caring — I am assuming he doesn’t care about those of us not close to him in relation.
I struggle with thinking things and not announcing them when I feel as though they need to be shared. I had been partially raised by a few elderly family members who often spoke their mind and well . . . I feel like one day, I am going to just say, “Hey, sir . . . why do you let your dog sit on your balcony and cry out to us? Can you not hear him or are you just ignoring him?” It is taking everything in me not to do this. I am mindful of the times in which we live, and I do not know his regular temperament.
I don’t know how he will react.
I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. He could be a father who lost his firstborn to violence. He could be an uncle who helped raise a wayward nephew, but now has custody of his grandniece. He could be a public safety officer dealing with the struggles of every type of human being you can imagine, and at the end of the day, he just doesn’t have the energy to care. He could be just old and grumpy and unfeeling.
I don’t know.
I search for evidence of happiness or playfulness when I see him, yet his eyes just squint into two tiny specks of solemnity. At every opportunity, I offer a kind, “Hello,” and I seem to pull it back into me when it has been magically swept from his ears. He lives in seconds from what I can see — never dwells in one spot too long — rushes the dogs to relieve themselves on some misguided scale he’s balancing. One day, one of them will tip that scale. I hope I’m not around to witness it.
Initially, I thought he was just having a bad day, but this cannot be so. No one has a bad day every single day. No one is ever truly discontented every single day. I had been taught to respect my elders — to acknowledge them, to help where I see the need. He doesn’t require help. He doesn’t seem to need it. He doesn’t even seem to want to be acknowledged. I steer clear of people who I cannot get a clear read on, and unfortunately, he is one of them.
I am trying to understand my place in this.
Who am I to want to know this man’s life — to want to understand how one’s brain operates to allow him to keep his barking dog on the balcony for an entire neighborhood to endure? I am no one big and bad — I have no authority, but I pay rent to dwell in this community just as he does. I also find it an actual sense of neglect to just leave a sentient being in/on a space/place where it can continue to alert people who don’t want to be alerted.
As an Empath, I crave to first try to feel another’s pain or make sense of it. When I cannot, it bests me — defeats me. There is also this air about me to cure what ails another. I am no savior and this has been a hard pill to swallow for years, but I am not. Currently, I am trying to understand my place in all of this. Am I just the neighbor who lives two buildings down and one across who thinks this is a serious nuisance? Or am I a part of this community deserving of respect, love, kindness, consideration, and understanding?
The latter is what I choose. Shouldn’t he?
I could never leave Jernee on my balcony if she were in a barking fit or even if she began barking intermittently. My first thought would be to remove the noise so it doesn’t disturb my neighbors. My second thought would be to find out what’s wrong with the little one and try to resolve the issue. I realize everyone does not have the same thought process.
I won’t assume. I shouldn’t.
Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. Even when we think they’re unworthy or total assholes (I grit my teeth as I type this — some people can take you to a place of utter disgust). There is always something brewing and stewing in the lives of others to cause them to act outside of our descriptions of “normal behavior.” I won’t assume this man is uncaring of others. I shouldn’t. As I stated earlier, I don’t know his life or the makeup of it.
All I can do as a person living in the same apartment complex as him is to understand the why of it all. And later, know I am not the type of person to leave my dog out on my balcony to disturb the peace. I know who I am and I know how much I care about my pet.
In time, I hope this is enough for me to breathe in deeply and know the incessant barking never lasts long — it’s just annoying as hell.
Originally published in Age of Empathy via Medium.