I was walking my dog today. I noticed a kid, maybe high school age, sitting with his head down and his back to me. He had a smart-phone in his right hand, screen facing up at him. He was quaking and crying periodically. I said, “You OK, brother?” He didn't turn or say anything. I said, “You want some dog?” He looked up and back at me. I explained myself, “....make you feel good?” He turned away and said, “Yeah.” So the dog went to work on his face with her tongue. I think the kid liked it because he didn't shy from her and he touched her a little. Then I said, “Hope you feel better.” and I left. He put his head down and resumed quaking and crying. The whole exchange took less than a minute. It was like a scene from a movie and here's why: When the dog was licking his face, I saw that the kid had a prosthetic left leg, a single round olive colored fiberglass shin, cylindrical, about an inch in diameter with a sneaker at the end of it.
I continued walking my dog. I wondered what the kid was crying about. I supposed it was a girlfriend and hoped it wasn't something worse. Whatever it was, I'm pretty sure he felt worse about it than he felt about the leg. On my return trip I saw that the kid was gone. I wondered where he went to.
When I first spoke to that kid, I was worried that he might feel intruded upon or threatened. But I never had any hesitation or doubt that I was going to express compassion because that's what you are supposed to do. I didn't have to think about what I should say. I knew when to leave. Nor did I feel bad about leaving him sitting there crying when I left.
We all know exactly how to do this. I had a girlfriend who knew how to do this. Approaching that kid is something she would have done. She never hesitated. She never felt awkward. She never feared that her intentions might be misunderstood. She was never afraid to get involved in difficult situations. I saw her do it many times. As I was walking homeward with my dog, it occurred to me that I learned it from her. But then I realized it was already in me. She merely showed me that it's other people too. Opportunities for practice abound. Everyday life can become like in the movies.
I walk my dog by that spot every day. Tomorrow I'll walk by, look at the place and think of what happened there. I might encounter the kid again. And I will know him in an instant, because of the leg! If I do see him again, I won't feel awkward at all. If we have occasion to speak, I'll say, with an easy smile and an upward inflection in the tone of my voice, “Hey brother.” That's all I'll have to say and he will understand.