Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Angel in the Hayfield

We were taking a late afternoon walk, my dogs and I, around the hayfield, trying to make the most of its company before snow buries it for another winter. We were three quarters the way around, counterclockwise, on the eastern side when I caught whiff of the familiar scent of Velvet pipe tobacco and the sound of a Maine accent I'd heard before, following it.

"So, how does it feel, bein' done and all? Ya ah a doctah, now, aintcha?"

He stepped out of the trees as he spoke, not an old man, but older than me, wearing a red and black buffalo plaid jacket, rubber boots, and a crumpled brown fedora. His took his pipe out of his mouth and gestured, "Nice dogs."

We'd met a couple of years ago when my yellow Lab and I got off the beaten path in the early twilight. He must have recognized the old man as well, because he made no move to growl. The black one, too, was uncharacteristically quiet and both sat, also uncharacteristically, as if on command. "Thanks," I said, "and yes I am, got my passing scores this week. I can't do much with it, though, since I'm not licensed, but that'll come. As to how it feels, I'm not sure. I can't quite figure it yet."

"Makes sense," he said, kneeling down to pat the dogs, who wagged the tips of their tails in response, back and forth across the leaf-strewn stubble. "Fer all ya put inta this, it has to feel kinda strange, kinda like maybe ya don't know how to feel. That's understandable."

He's got good therapeutic technique, I thought, showing empathy and paraphrasing what I say while being non-committal. "To tell the truth, I'm a bit afraid to feel. In the past, whenever I've gotten this close, something always came up to get in the way. It's hard to believe there's nothing 'out there' lying in wait for me. Though there is finding a residency. Still, it's a little anticlimactic."

He nodded, stood up, and looked away to the west. A cloudless winter sky passing into sunset was his view. He puffed on his pipe in silence a moment or two before he spoke again. "How could it not be? Ya been doin' this, med school, what, seven years now? It's been more yer life than an education." The way he said it, sounded like "edgikayshun."

"Yes, it has, with all the good and some of the bad associated with it. Not everyone I know expected me to finish. I never had any doubt, I just didn't know when. Oddly, it feels like something I want to keep to myself instead of shouting from the rooftops. Almost like it's too...too..."

"Too personal? Kinda like havin' a baby? Ya tell ever'one after it comes, but ya don't mention anythin' 'bout how ya made it in the first place. I think that's 'bout right. Shows respect fer what ya been through." He turned his pipe over, knocking ashes onto the ground, and refilled it. 

"Listen," he said, "some things you gotta respect, things that make ya who ya'ah, what ya pay fer in ways you can't imagine when you staht out. You didn't know it would take seven years, you couldn't. Nobody could. What matters is, ya did it. Faced down all the demons and come further than ya evah thought ya could. Yuh've done what ya were s'posed to, what ya always been s'posed to. Time'll come fer shoutin' -- right now, just love it. Love it and respect it, cuz things like this don't come 'long ever day."

Before I could reply, he reached down and patted the dogs once again, "You take care uh this fella, ya heah?" They looked at me and wagged, leaves flying as though caught up by a breeze. "As fer you," he said, straightening up and looking me in the eye meaningfully, "Residency'll come too, don't worry, maybe where ya least expect it. Been good seein' ya." Then he nodded and walked back into the trees. 

"You, too," I said, watching the angel in the hayfield vanish as he was swallowed up by the woods. 

(Photo copyright 2013, by the author, all rights reserved)

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