I have the honor of knowing an 89-year-old gentleman whose physical, mental and emotional capabilities would put most men a quarter of his age to shame.
Like many other men of his age, he has watched as his wife, friends and relatives slipped away and as result was granted a service dog for “emotional” support: A one-eyed, shelter, service dog — though it was not known at the time that this amazing animal was half blind.
This gentleman: A veteran of the wars of the Brooklyn streets when the Mafia ruled; the son of a woman who made bathtub gin to keep the family afloat; and who worked on some of the most sensitive defensive weapons this nation has ever created — sometimes alongside Nazis brought to this country for their scientific knowledge — loves his service dog.
But, it is what he does with the dog that is truly astounding. He uses the one-eyed miracle to help others.
This gentleman is not content to sit at home; he takes the dog named Shayna — Yiddish for beauty — to homes for the elderly, hospices, hospitals, children’s wards and to those who have little happiness and hope in their lives.
This is his passion — as he often opines: “Everyone has a right to a little company.”
Shayna brings smiles to faces of those who talk of death, despair, pain and loss of hope. Shayna Gives them joy.
One particular story is both an example of what can be done and a tragedy of what cannot be changed.
The man often visits a 52-year-old former journalist who is suffering from advanced multiple sclerosis. The ill young man speaks only of his desire to die; the life he could have had; and the lack of those who care that he still suffers on the face of this Earth he no longer considers his own.
But when the upright smiling gentleman enters with Shayna, this all changes. She jumps straight into his lap and snuggles next to his face. Yes, he still talks of the tragedy that is his life.
But for a few hours each week, the three: The 89-year-old man, the one-eyed dog and the man whose life is wasting away sit together in peace. And the former successful journalist finds a tad of joy in what he knows will eventually be a horrible end.
This is a story of strength — the strength to look hell straight in the eye (sometimes with only one) and come out ahead because people care.
I cannot name this man because it would embarrass him — and he probably could kick my butt, even though I am considerably more than 30 years his junior.
But he is an inspiration: To me, to his family and to everyone who has the luck to cross his path — to anyone to whom he brings a moment of relief.