Valerie Forde-Galvin

© Copyright 2024 by Valerie Forde-Galvin

Photo courtesy of the author..
Photo courtesy of the author.

Certain Eastern philosophies view this life on earth as illusion or “Maya.” I have no problem with that concept. In my eight decades, I've discovered that nothing is quite what it seems. Alright, so this doesn't necessarily put me in the Vedic camp, but let's just say I can relate.

So, what is real and what is unreal? This is not just a question for philosophers to ponder. I suggest that much of what we see is open to our own interpretation.

I recently came upon this photograph taken years ago. There could be many ways of interpreting this picture. What is happening here? The characters in this scene are an adult female Newfoundland dog, weighing in at approximately one hundred pounds, and an eight year old girl with considerably less poundage. The location is a residential street in a Boston suburb. The activity is open to question but, at first glance, appears to show an animal attacking a human. Two facts are assured: This scene did take place in the distant reality of 1946 and it has not been photoshopped.

There are many unanswered questions. Who took the photo? In 1946, cameras were bulky, expensive, and not user-friendly. This photo looks to have been taken on the spur of the moment to capture the leaping dog. But snapshots were seldom candid back then because of the effort it took to load the film. Moreover, results were not instantaneous. The used-up roll of film was then taken to the drugstore to be developed. By the time the photos were printed, folks had already forgotten why they ever took that shot.

So who just happened to be ready with the camera when this Newfoundland dog leaped into the air? Was it someone so callous as to see “Dog attacks Girl” as an opportunity for a sensational photo? If that was the case, why wasn't some concerned bystander caught rushing to the rescue? At frst glance, here's this little girl being attacked by a large animal. It almost looks like her head is gripped in its jaws and, at any moment, she could be mauled and reduced to dog chow. So, perhaps the bigger question should be: Did the little girl survive the dog's attack?

The little girl is me and obviously I lived to tell the tale. The large dog is our family pet, a Newfoundland dog named Black Beauty. It was February and, as usual, I was overdressed for winter, encumbered and practically immobilized by a bulky snowsuit and securely buckled galoshes. I was standing on the street in front of my house within the watchful eyes of parents and, mostly likely, also neighbors. Ours was a tightly knit neighborhood. I like to believe that, if I'd been in danger, someone would have come to my aid.

There could be many explanations but family legend has it that this photo shows Beauty protecting me, preventing me from doing some harmful activity. I was eight. It was late winter. Swaddled in heavy clothing, I stood on my home turf, a dead-end street in Dorchester. What hazardous deed could I possibly have been scheming?

Judging by my body posture, it would appear that I was not thrown off balance nor was I threatened by the furry onslaught. I was not cringing in fright. Further scrutiny shows that my head was not locked in the dog's jaws. It almost looks like Beauty was awkwardly trying to give me a hug. Sure, it's even possible that she was holding me back, preventing me from getting into some kind of trouble. But, like I said, I was eight. My parents made my decisions for me. I was incapable of plotting harmful activity.

So what was the dog's motivation? If it was protection, where's the perceived danger? What if my dog, like an overly anxious parent, was protecting me from growing up? Now there's a question to ponder: the transitory nature of existence. All things change. Time would have its effect as I grew to adulthood and experienced the necessary life lessons along the way. Was my noble Newfoundland attempting to shield me from my future? To borrow from the Peter Pan story, this might have been her way of saying, “Never grow up.”

We were close, Beauty and me. She was my beloved companion and protector. When I played outside, I was never alone. Beauty eagerly joined in the game. This dog had a beautiful spirit. I'll always believe she was a Bodhisattva. If you look that up, you'll see that a Bodhisattva is a compassionate enlightened soul whose mission is to help all beings. This describes my dog perfectly. Beauty was my Nana, watching over me day and night. Beauty was always tuned in to my emotions; she possessed a quality of empathy seldom seen in humans. I brought all my heartache to Beauty. When I buried my face in her warm black fur, Beauty absorbed my sorrows.

Not only was Beauty compassionate but she was brave and shielded me from danger. When she was a puppy, she slept in my bed. . . until her increasing weight caused the bed to collapse and she was banished to a dog bed in the living room. Once, in the middle of the night, the family was awakened by an explosion at a factory several miles away. The sky lit up; the house shook; Beauty perceived threat. Knocking over a hall table and busting open my door, she got to my side before I even opened my eyes. There's a dog you can count on!

Beauty possessed a special kind of awareness which sometimes led me to believe that she was psychic. She could size up a situation clearly, saw in advance what might happen. I was seldom in harm's way but there were occasions when Beauty, walking beside me, would give a little nudge that helped me avoid a puddle or sidewalk crack. I'll always wonder if, in this photograph and at other times, Beauty could see where this little girl was headed long term. Maybe she wanted to keep me in the moment. Maybe this dog was using her limited persuasive skills to wake me up to the potential dangers awaiting me during the next eighty years. . . which she would never be around to witness. I'll always wonder how might her presence in my adult life have made a difference. Following the Vedic theme, if you believe in reincarnation, that's a story for another lifetime, wouldn't you say?

Clearly, all questions about this candid shot could be answered by the unknown photographer. Most likely it was my aunt Louise. My mother's unmarried sister earned a fairly good living as a teacher and therefore could afford a camera. It should then be simple enough to ask her about the photo. But that aunt is dead. In accordance with my original reference to “Maya” and to eastern philosophy in general, I feel obliged to add: Such is the transitory nature of this life on earth. Anyway, you get the picture here. We are exploring what is real and what is not real. At this moment, neither Louise nor Black Beauty is part of current reality and even our little street has undergone changes. The woods at street's end have been cleared and Chauncey Street now goes all the way through to Crescent Street. Progress comes to Dorchester.

We're only speculating here but another possibility does come to mind. I can think of much more simple ways to explain this photograph of girl and dog. Joy. Happiness. Fun.

It had been a long winter and, by the time this photo was taken, the snow cover had begun to melt. Our little street was cleared of snow. After spending weeks confined indoors, we were finally allowed out to play. We were excited just to be outside in the bracing fresh air and late winter sunshine. We were happy, me and my dog. In her exuberance, Beauty jumped up and became airborne. You might notice that her back paws are lifted off the ground. Leaping with joy, she was extending her front paws toward me as if to say, “Let's have fun!” In response, I turned my head and let out my own shout of joy.

Any situation is open to interpretation; nothing is quite what it appears to be. It's all in the perspective of the viewer. Today one looks upon a sepia photograph with a certain nostalgia. Eighty years ago. . . well, I guess people saw what they wanted to see. Past, present, or future might all be negotiable according to your particular philosophy of existence. Even the present reality can be an illusion. But, either way you look at it, good times are good times.

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