Recently, I’ve had two experiences that remind me of my high school motto, Cui Servire est Regnare, “to serve is to reign.”
Days ago, a seeing-eye dog stood beside me on the platform for the subway, guarding carefully a stout woman in a red sweater set whose name might be Gail. He looked at me once, politely, then settled his countenance toward the oncoming train. Once inside, he held his back like a dinner table, until Gail was seated and patted his head, saying “Good boy, Xander.”
As she settled her tote bag and adjusted her clothing, Xander unpropped his heavy back and sat very compactly, very closely to Gail. He placed his right paw, and his entire front leg, across her knees as if he were a seatbelt. Gail then put her chubby paw over his sleek brown hand, rubbing it over and over, cooing his name as if there weren’t a car full of people listening. I shut my eyes to hear what she heard—the newspapers ruffling; the sniffing, defrosting faces.
Xander liked affection, and he was so tall and good that sitting on his hind haunches, his upper body reached her chest, and he nuzzled into her red sweater – I’m Xander, he smiled.
My stop came much sooner than usual, and I was thrilled that Xander and Gail, too, were exiting at 66th Street. I found myself following them—I took the staircase I never take, and entered the world up through a new tunnel, following his diligent trail toward Columbus Avenue. I spent a good portion of the next hour marveling that a dog could lead a woman through a city where buildings touch sky and people travel underground; where all things visual–-structure, arts and lights—collide. You think you know what love is, and then you ride the subway with a seeing eye dog.
The next week, when the world discovered our UNC student body president Eve Carson had been murdered, I couldn’t bear to ride the subway. Wind pushed the slack out of American flags on Fifth Avenue. I walked forty blocks home from work, beginning on the south side of Central Park where horse and carriage drivers lean against the great wooden wheels on their cigarette breaks. I thought of what the university chancellor would come to call Eve’s “excellence with a heart” – the way she touched millions of people through her selfless community outreach. The door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was heavy. My muscles strained, relieved to be pushing against something. Inside I lit a candle, and asked Eve where to go from here.
After all, her sense of sight was so much keener than my own. Her purpose was as clear to her as Xander’s to him. I’m reminded that service, no matter what form it takes, is beautiful, and moves in the right direction.
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