Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about
language, ideas, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.- Rumi
After the third day and night of this incessant crying I got out of my sleeping bag, grabbed my flashlight and went outside to investigate.
I was in the highlands of Thailand, studying Thai massage. To make some extra money the villagers put the students up in their homes as guests. I was working on a documentary at the time and needed electricity to run my laptop so they put me in the village chief’s house.
They strung an extension cord from the only power outlet in town across the dirt road, along the side of the hut, through the rafters and hung it straight down into my room. Their warning was “Don’t plug it in when it’s raining out.” When I looked up from my mattress on the floor through the rafters at the mildly live wire dangling above my head I saw the bellies of rats scurrying above me too. It was not glamorous living.
So, here I am tromping through the village at night by myself, feeling like a hero on a mission to save this tortured soul. I follow the sounds and finally see what is making all the noise.
It is a puppy, tied tightly by a chain to the stairs of a hut. He has no food, no water and no owners in sight. His neck is rubbed raw from the pulling and he is tiring of the fight. I assumed the owners had left for the weekend and left their dog chained to the house so he would not run away. Most of the dogs in the village were wild so it was weird that this one was being kept imprisoned in this way. “Some people are so cruel” I thought to myself.
I looked around and no one was watching me so I undid the chain, freed the dog and ran like hell for home. He followed me of course, the cutest little guy in the world with every rib showing and well fed fleas popping around on his back.
I grabbed him some food from my backpack and he inhaled it. I gave him more and he ate that too. I snuck down to the students kitchen and stole some bananas and the little bugger was overwhelmed with joy, his tail a wagging and his eyes sparking.
I saved his life.
I did the right thing.
The next morning he was waiting for me. He followed me to school and again I stole him bananas for breakfast. At lunchtime when I came outside he was waiting for me again but this time with three of his friends. “Well” I thought “this is to be expected” and I fed them all too.
The pack grew and by evening there were six wild dogs waiting patiently for their dinner. I gave them each a banana but this time they were not so nice. One bit the other, two stole the banana from my favorite baby pooch and another nipped me on the hand.
They followed me home. They were aggressive. They were jumping on me and one pushed me to the ground. I got up, picked up my buddy and ran indoors to safety.
The next morning my buddy was gone. It did not concern me much because these dogs are not Canadian dogs; they are more like those swamp rats in The Princess Bride who hadn’t eaten in six months. I knew my pal could take care of himself.
I left for the morning and was greeted at the kitchen by a great surprise.
Over twelve dogs were waiting for me barking and snarling for their dinner. I quickly grabbed the bananas and all hell broke loose. They attacked me, fighting for the food, knocked me down and fought amongst themselves like the wild animals they were.
It was clear at this point I had made a mistake.
But I had no idea how big.
The village chief came into our session that morning to talk to the group.
“Someone here has been feeding the dogs. I want whomever it is to know that the act has made the dogs very aggressive and the villagers have had to start beating them. Two dogs have been killed and more will die if you do not stop this. We have a balance in the village and you disrupted it.”
The dogs lunged for me as I left that afternoon but this time I did not give them their lunch.
My baby was still not with them.
I realized then that the family that had tied him up was probably, in fact, protecting him. These dogs were fierce and he was small and if I am going to be honest about it, now probably dead.
It was my first lesson in right actually being wrong. My righteousness that night clouded over any analysis that this village has been existing for hundred of years before I entered it. They had rules that worked for them and my ignorance had caused serious damage.
Instead of hearing one lone dog cry that night I heard three dogs yelping from being beaten.
I think of that little guy a lot.
I hope he enjoyed his few days of freedom, his bananas and a full belly before his death.
I hope he forgives me.
I hope he knows that his life taught me a great lesson and now I try my best to remember that whenever I know for sure I’m right that is the first clue that in fact I am probably closer to wrong.
Or maybe there is a shadowy grey area we can meet in somewhere to discuss it further.