University of Minnesota Morris

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The Day Rabies Opened My Heart and Mind

I realized a while back that, while I was enjoying my time here, I was getting into a rut. I wake up in the morning, go through my routine, eat a piece of fruit, and drink a glass of juice. If I have time I stop at one of two cafés near my house and order café con leche and a medialuna. I check my email, read the headlines, and then head to class. I walk down Jeronimo Salguero for 6 blocks, then turn and walk down Bulnes for 3 blocks and get on the subte at Santa Fe. Every now and then I stop and see what’s playing at the theatre, or I buy something to drink at a kiosco. Everyday I take the Subte to Facultad de Medicina. It is the third stop and the door opens on the same side of the train, so I always stand by the door where I get on. I walk through the plaza the same way, on the same sidewalks, up the same steps every day on my way to the Facultad de Sciencias Sociales two blocks from the subte stop. I admire the same flowers and look at the some graffiti on the buildings. I take the elevator to the 4th floor, and walk to my classroom where I sit in the same place, every day.

At first I didn’t realize it as a rut. I simply considered it my new, cool, and totally Spanish, routine. However, it soon became clear that if I continued like this for months I would get into the same state of mind that led me to desire an escape from my life in the first place. I was still enjoying myself, but I realized I came here because I needed a change of life, not necessarily a change of place.

A few weeks ago I saw a stray dog on the sidewalk by a café I walk by everyday. It was a rather large dog, a mutt, and I didn’t understand what made him choose that corner to hang out, but there he sat, waiting. The dog continued to be there every day when I walked by. He seemed to make friends with the people who ran the cut flower stand on the same corner. They tolerated him and he didn’t make any trouble. He seemed old. He was no longer an eager young pup looking for attention, and desiring to be played with. His role now was simply to watch and wait for something.

I was sitting in the café on the same corner one day not long after, when something happened that really inspired me. A woman came into the café and, just as countless others do, she sat down and ordered something. The camarera brought her some coffee and medialunas, but instead of eating the medialunas she had ordered she took them out to this dog on the sidewalk and tried to get him to eat them. It did seem as though his health was starting to fail, but I had a hunch it was from something other than hunger. As simple as it was, it was something very beautiful. Maybe the simplicity was in fact what made it so beautiful. This woman left her coffee on the table, and then left momentarily to get a dog dish and then asked the flower stand people for some water to put into the dish. She probably sat with the dog for half an hour after that, checking it over and talking to it. You could tell by looking at how she and the dog interacted that somehow the planets had aligned to bring them together. He was at peace, and so was she. I would not have guessed by looking at her that this is something she normally does, and I think I would still say that, but if there was something in her I could have bottled up and sold I would swear by its power.

There was something in her that I needed. A thousand other people had walked by that dog just that day. What had made her stop and have compassion for this homely beast? I had been raised not to go near stray dogs, and was indoctrinated with a fear of rabies at a young age. So naturally, while I may have had a hint of pity for this dog, I certainly was not about to touch it and let it lick me. But the fact is, rabies does not exist here, and that, it seems, is a metaphor for something larger. I was letting the same old fears control my life, even though they had no place here to dictate anything I did. Maybe it was just these types of things, theses small acts of kindness, which I needed to break this feeling of the rut I was in. It wasn’t about walking a different way to school everyday, it was about opening myself up spiritually and emotionally to what was right in front of me and having the bravery to challenge what I took as given.

When I came back home from class that day the dog was resting comfortably along the wall of the café, next to his new food and water dish, and making himself perfectly at home. He was a stray mutt that had probably never really been wanted by anyone in his life, and I was really happy for him. A couple days later I walked by and he and his water dish were gone. I didn’t need to ask the flower stand workers to know that he had died. I was so glad that the woman’s small gesture of kindness had helped make his last days better, and that he passed more comfortably than he would have otherwise.

And so it goes, I woke up the next day more aware of the power I possess as an individual to affect change in the world, and I was thankful for rabies. Without it, or rather my fear of it, I wouldn’t have witnessed the act of humanity that helped me realize the true purpose of this journey called ‘study abroad’, the evolution and revitalization of body, mind, and spirit.

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