A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.
– Walter Winchell
Since launching BESSIE’S STORY – Watching the Lights Go Out we have enjoyed book readings at a wide range of venues. Ashley and I feel a little bit like we are the crew on a road tour with Bessie being the featured star. When it’s time to leave for an event she hops in the back seat of our car, lies down and falls asleep. Meanwhile we are loading up books, computers, her leash, cookies (Bessie’s dog cookies and Ashley’s homemade chocolate chip cookies) and all of the paraphernalia required to prepare for any possible chain of events. Bessie’s aplomb in these situations is counterbalanced by Ashley’s anxiety. The nervous mother syndrome, I guess.
At the readings there are always a few participants who form a special bond with our girl, and there is no predicting whom she will choose. At the end of a program at a retirement home Bessie had her head in the lap of a ninety-seven-year-old gentleman who had beautiful, sky-blue eyes that twinkled like stars on an August evening with each charming sentence he spoke. Turns out he was going blind. Bess must have sensed this and they formed a bond. He bought a book with the plan that his ninety-three-year old girlfriend would read it to him. He winked at me while sharing this bit of information.
A woman in the audience during the reading kept saying, “Yep, yep, that’s exactly how I feel,” while I was reading about Bessie’s adjustment to a changing world. She seemed to vividly understand what Bessie was going through. I can still see her nodding her head during the reading, her connection with Bessie was on a cosmic level.
At a reading in the historic Town Hall of a quaint New Hampshire village a sweet, shy, unassuming ten-year-old girl asked me to sign one of Bessie’s postcards. It wasn’t me she was interested in, but Bessie. “Be like Bessie,” I wrote on the card, and her eyes lit up! “I will,” she said. And we both knew exactly what she meant. The card is probably tacked on a bulletin board in her bedroom, or taped to a mirror she sees every day. I hope so.
During an assembly at one school I paused after reading the chapter about talking to dogs and asked the kids to speak to each other in their dog voices. Suddenly the classroom was filled with affection and kindness. Bessie’s ears perked up, too.
One of the most touching moments came while pointing out to a group of fourth graders how important it is to respond to people with handicaps or disabilities the same way they responded to Bessie―be compassionate, curious and helpful. A nine-year-old described his friendship with a pal who has autism, and how much the relationship blossomed once he understood the condition. Rather than passing judgement, this insightful boy found joy in acceptance.
At a reading in a beautiful old library in a tiny New Hampshire town one gruff guy sat in sullen silence with his arms crossed over his chest for most of the session. Then, at the end, he almost broke down in tears describing how much he missed his old dog who had been a companion through some challenging life transitions. I think if we’d okayed it he would have taken Bessie home. She’d have gone with him, too.
Dogs bring magic to our lives. They are relatively brief visitors in our busy day-to-day schedules, but their impact is magnified in moments and they skillfully slow us down. Dogs are wonderfully, flatteringly loyal, but at the same time can be uncommonly generous with their affection towards strangers. Bessie has become a conduit for the best that we have to offer each other. A simple message is best: BE LIKE BESSIE!