Friday, March 26, 2010

Checking In

If you ever pass Taylor and me on the street, do not be surprised if he is turned straight towards me with his nose up against mine, looking me straight in the eyes. We can be walking anywhere--in a parking lot, down a city sidewalk, in the women's dressing room at Steinmart--and Taylor will stop, turn me towards him, frame my face in his hands and search my eyes. He is checking in. That's my best guess.
Without having much language at all, Taylor takes his cues from stimuli, commotion, and the interactions of people around us. When it seems like it's all too much for him, he just takes a time out---and pulls me along with him. I know that he must be wanting to tell me something, but there are no words. There is just that, "Be still. Be close. I'm here. Are you still with me?" It is very tender and very dear---except for when it's not. Sometimes I'll be right in the middle of handing the lady at Sam's my credit card, or I'll be dodging six lanes of traffic, or rain may be pouring down all over my great hair do. I feel this tug on my arm. Taylor is checking in.....again. "Are you here with me?" he searches me.

You know, I would have to say that I was never much of a dog person growing up--not even a pet person. There were eight kids in my family and even though we had a dog, my parents treated him like...well, a dog. I know that we left town for six weeks at a time for the beach. I have no recollection at all about their making arrangements to have Rusty fed. Anyway, that's another guilt thing that I won't explore now. But, now things have changed some. Years ago, Taylor's speech therapist insisted that we get Taylor a dog to facilitate his language expression. So we bought Bone (beagle) and then Dolly Dog (yikes! hyper-Basset) and now we have Murphy (fake Lhasa). So, yeah, I am now a dog person. That whole last paragraph was to lay the groundwork for my forthcoming astute observations and insights: Dogs check in with one another. (Was that worth the wait? Did you animal folks already know this?) No, seriously, when dogs meet one another, they sniff, circle, smell, do a little alpha male type thing---you know, check in. And when they're all secure and feeling all safe, they take off and romp and interact. (I think I've had too many counseling courses. Interact???) I mean play! And, then after some mingling and meddling, (okay, what are dog words for what they're doing? Maybe I'm not a dog person) they check in again. Nose-to-nose, smell-to-smell, rib-to-rib--they check in as if to ask, "Are we still friend-ly?"
Maybe I have a greater need than most of you to check in with the people I love. "Are you alright? Are we alright?" It's important to stop our frantic attempts at life to turn towards our fellow people and ask, "How are you? Are you in there somewhere? Are you above water or just barely hanging on?"
I know that it would be way out there if we all checked in like Taylor does: our faces placed in gentle and safe hands, pure and observant eye contact between us, and just holding the moment in stillness and silence. Yeah, that would be preposterous, wouldn't it? So, what would be a sort of half-way and acceptable way for us to check in with one another so that we really see---see each other as we are? At that moment? In that space? Are we willing...are we able to stop, ask, and see what the other person's breathing looks like?
Well, actually, I am thinking that when Taylors stops me and turns me that he is not seeing me with his eyes, but with his heart. Maybe that's why I feel so safe and so willing to oblige. When we do take time to "see" each other, we might hear what is not able to be spoken. And, I'm going to borrow only part of a quote by Tennyson here, "Our eyes are homes to silent prayers."
Gosh, with Taylor, I am not certain if his silent prayer/checking in is saying,
"Let's go to Wendy's or "We look like crap, mama" or "I wish I were home watching 101 Dalmatians." or "I really hurt right now." It's hard to know. I have to really pay attention and then decipher from there.
But, for you and yours? What goes on there?
How do you check in with those whom you love?
Do you stand close? Are you allowed to frame their face?
Is being still in their eyes a safe place to be?
What are their eyes saying to you in that silent prayer?
It really and truly might be something as simple as "You have broccoli in your teeth." Or maybe it's not.
Keep dental floss and an open heart handy.