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  • Andre Lamartin

A Silent Presence So Sincerely Felt

A friend is someone always standing by your side while so many others leave, especially during trying times of enormous need. Asking for nothing in return but reciprocal love, mutual trust, and sincere affection, a friend invests all requisite time and effort into the protracted continuance of a relationship despite the many challenges of daily life. This lifelong observation being proven true, how fortunate am I to have Conan as a close friend of mine, one never far from view. Those who say a dog is a man's best friend are surely making a point one can easily defend. Even amid the most challenging of times, there was much my canine companion always had to teach. Conan only found the safety of a new home after spending a protracted time struggling to survive abandoned on the streets. Still bearing the marks of a prior life almost entirely devoid of love and support, Conan was rescued from the mercilessness of violent streets a few years ago. He was saved from an unforgiving life where the next meal was always an open-ended question, where clean, potable water was mana from heaven, where shelter was only provided by distant, silent stars, despite the always irascible disposition of the changing weather.

The extent of his pain and sorrow after being abandoned out on the streets remains a subject of speculation, but one inferred from the myriad scars left behind, both physical and emotional, scars only now being effaced by a combination of love, support, loyalty, and the healing passage of time. Accompanied on the streets only by those equally abandoned, Conan used to sleep with the homeless, those forgotten by their families and peers, surviving on the desperate fringes of society. All his brothers in arms were well versed on the realities of abject poverty, an atavistic curse plaguing endless generations of the same families, but one also affecting the occasional lost soul unexpectedly fallen from grace for particular reasons unbeknownst to most. The destitute never openly spoke about their miserable plight for good reason. In a supposedly democratic society where who you are is deemed to be more important than what you have to say, the value of a man's words is usually dictated by his social standing, and not by the intrinsic merit of his own arguments. In the end, the haves are rarely willing to hear what the have nots so direly have to say. But this was never Conan's humble appreciative way.

Sharing a mattress at night, the homeless taught him the realities of dire destitution amid a heartless society where structural unemployment was more than a distant fear. A cruel world where abject poverty remained a long-lasting form of bondage, transforming otherwise mundane daily concerns into life threatening existential crises for those forced to survive in unrelenting desperation and uncertainty, perennially unable to exercise true citizenship. This unacceptable form of destitution affecting so many for so long has continued unabated for a deceptively simple reason. Hypocrites who profess to care about extreme social inequality are always passively waiting until an undisclosed future date when they will supposedly address this problem with other people's money, never their own. As those who teach only with words usually err on the side of hypocrisy, always be careful about what you learn in life when coming across the wrong teacher. No matter how heavy a burden one must bear, there is simply no cause for despair: God's belief in mankind justifies our own. This is the primary reason why I occasionally assisted the homeless who once shared a mattress with Conan in making the same transition my canine friend so bravely has made. As Jesus once said in Matthew 5:3:"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Following Christ's teachings, Conan was first rescued from this godforsaken street life after setting up base camp in front of my home for a few days. Speaking silently with his eyes, his pleas for help did not go unanswered. Unspoken words can always be carefully understood by those who silently communicate with their eyes. Fortunately for him, the most trying moments in life tend to bring the very best out of those who rise to the challenge, displaying greater spiritual fortitude and strength of character than anyone ever thought possible. Although his prior life only made him stronger for it, his name was an imposition dictated by his adamant will to survive and his barbarian dislike for most civilized, domestic manners. Deeply suspicious of anything offered him to eat, he was probably concerned about being poisoned by delicacies entirely extraneous to his past dietary habits. He also drank very little water, which he seemed to prize as a rarity always to be cherished, despite its ubiquitous availability in his newfound home. Taking him out for walks on a leash was akin to domesticating a wolf who never answered by his own name. Exchanging his unbound lifelong freedom for the safety of a new home was never a fair trade he was entirely able to condone.

As the months went by, Conan always made his presence felt by standing by my side while so many others left. The long walks we use to take when he first arrived became short strolls through the neighborhood. Opposing his territorial instincts to investigate and patrol nearby streets proved to be a losing proposition. Although he never learned to display affection with his tongue, he used eye contact to communicate his feelings while becoming my second shadow. He was certainly not mistaken in this respect. We should never forget about the good examples in life because the bad ones rarely forget about us. Following me everywhere, Conan seemed pathologically concerned about being abandoned, a tragedy bound never again to repeat itself. Although a traumatizing past abandonment need not imply a future one, every lasting friendship must be watered with time and affection. Only by making the necessary emotional investment can past open wounds finally heal. As he made his presence felt, taking the requisite time to play with him was duly important; the indifference of close ones is considerably more painful than the contempt of those far away. One need not be left out on the streets only to be abandoned. Two friends can never be truly close when separated by distant, deafening silence.

Being easygoing and low maintenance, Conan is a testament to how courage and spiritual resilience can overcome seemingly overpowering adversity, sorrow, and abandonment. The gaunt, famished, skeletal, emaciated figure he once so sadly displayed has now given way to a healthy, robust physique that speaks of his good fortune of finding a family to love and care for him. Although the traumatizing scars of a violent past may never entirely fade away, they pale in comparison to his newfound peace and happiness. Always joyfully amicable towards people and other dogs, Conan's only visceral dislike is for speeding, hurtling cars because of the prior risk once posed to him while he still lived on the streets. Although dealing with past traumas requires considerable time and affection, one should never underestimate the scope of possibility when empowered by considerable faith in God, and love for those both near and far. Though patience sometimes requires seemingly unbearable self-sacrifice, time is always on the side of those whose lives are not built on lies. Staying always true to one's own rational self-interest, a friend who needs your assistance today may be the only one offering a quantum of solace tomorrow.

Having lost Apollo, my previous canine companion and lifelong best friend, years ago under tragic circumstances where he finally succumbed after a brave, prolonged, painful war with a mysterious degenerative disease, I promised myself never again to form such a loving, adamantine bond of friendship given the abyssal void of the loss and sorrow experienced once saying our last goodbye. Fortunately, the only trouble in always saying never is coming across an unforeseen set of circumstances that precludes the use of this word. As a seemingly tragic end may only portend a promising new beginning, there is always hope to be found when looking for it in the right places. After deciding never again to own a dog, no provision was ever made for the inadvertent possibility that one could be rescued from the streets. The importance of now recalling these events resides in not being betrayed by my own tortured memory. In the absence of our memories, the present lacks any proper frame of reference, and the past becomes as uncertain as the future. Conan was not my first canine companion, and the immortal memory of Apollo, the one who came before him, awakened in me the earnest desire to love and care for my newfound best friend.

As a past traumatizing tragedy need not portend a future one, hope sometimes teaches us that a bright future may from a tragic past be entirely disconnected. It was in honor and remembrance of my long-lost best friend that I decided to love and welcome this new one into my life. Although the precise circumstances of his homecoming were not of my personal choosing, adopting Conan proved a welcome addition to an otherwise perennially demanding life, one only rendered more hopeful by the loving company of a friend who has always made his silent presence so sincerely felt. True to his own personal example, Conan taught me that the upside of not having any money is learning to value all that doesn't require having it. Poverty and abandonment need not be invincible, lifelong obstacles when love and hope unbind the future from the past, perhaps indicating the way structural poverty should finally be addressed.

In the end, the greatest tragedy in life is never understanding its true meaning in time to make a world of a difference. For those who dismiss the Gospel, life is simply a race to the bottom as the Lord never heels before numbers. In a world where all seems destined to be priced and sold, somethings defy any form of pecuniary valuation. Of the many things in life money can buy, true friendship is most certainly never one. As the new member of my pack has so aptly learned, setting a personal example is the price of leadership when hypocrisy doesn't dictate the rules. If despondency is the only legacy left behind, the future must provide a new hope. Only a bright tomorrow, far more welcoming than a bleak yesterday, fully justifies enjoying the unexpected gift of this present day. As those who refuse to acknowledge injustice don't deserve to be acknowledged in return, if a righteous example isn't set at the top, one must become his own role model. A man who loses all respect for his leaders should become one himself.


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