At seven, I was a tiny thing, short and scrawny. Yet what I lacked in size, I made up in attitude. One tranquil day when my younger siblings and I were in our yard, a pack of dogs invaded it. Grabbing a stick, I raced toward the pack, out to punish them for daring to enter my domain. The leader of the pack was a huge black shaggy mutt. He pounced, tackling me to the ground, ripping my face with his claws as his pack yipped and yapped about my prone body.
I was in such shock I couldn't utter even a whimper. My siblings, on the other hand, raised hue and cry, heard up and down to the very hills around our property. "A dog is eating up Goldy!!" Within moments my mother was out there, beating at the dogs and pulling me into her safe embrace.
Half of my face was torn with a huge gaping chasm right near my eye. I remember the ambulance arriving, the police, and the lights in the emergency room. Bandaged, woozy and sleepy I arrived home, the wounded warrior who had been vanquished by a stray dog.
Maybe the dog ate me and I was just dreaming that I was safe?
As I tried drifting off to sleep, a sudden thought struck me. Maybe the dog ate me and I was just dreaming that I was safe? How would I know otherwise?
Not every person to whom I retell this dilemma gets the angst of that moment. Not everyone is blessed with Technicolor daydreams like I am. Those of us who are vivid dreamers know how real a dream can be, especially when you're seven years old.
Nights were particularly bad. My arm bore pinch marks as I experimented whether pain brings us to realize we're alive. The pain of the pinch didn't convince little me. I reasoned that pain, too, can be materialized by our imagination, and I still might not have survived the dog attack. Fear pervaded and to stave it off, some nights I would specifically conjure up other unrealities to misplace the image of me in that dog's stomach. I became convinced I had blond hair and would one day dance on a golden coach in a light blue gown.
Psychologists call it disassociation, when our mind cannot grasp a reality and therefore disconnects and goes elsewhere, far away from the here and now. I mastered disassociation to avoid what I thought might be reality. A dream to displace a nightmare.
There was no instant epiphany that cured me, sorry to say. For a few years I grappled with my questions about reality, alone in my dark. The trauma started fading as life went on and other experiences crowded out the memory of the attack. I began to realize I was able to do things, to accomplish, and I knew that affecting the world would not have been possible from the innards of a dog's digestive tract.
Some years later I chanced upon the great metropolis called Manhattan. Riding a subway train with me was a group of toughs from a public school. I couldn't help but hear their conversation, which amazed me -- they were arguing whether they had a soul or not. In retrospect I realize now that one shouldn't jump into conversations with gang members, but back then I didn't know better and soon enough I was debating these inner city kids.
It was right near my stop when I pulled out the clincher. I turned to the toughest kid and said, "You have no personality."
He blinked and stared down at me. "Are you dissin' me?" he sneered, as his friends high-fived each other with cackles.
"Show me your personality," I challenged.
More high-fives and cackles. The toughs got it. They were excited by the discovery. Souls could not be seen, but they could be experienced by their output.
"God bless," my new friends said as I made my exit off the train.
My soul was yearning for expression of its existence and when I was asked to visit the Jewish children in the Children's Hospital, I jumped at the chance. In the facility for medically-fragile children, I met a little girl, with ebony hair, alabaster skin and fine delicate features. She lay inert, her sightless blue eyes fixed permanently on nothing. She seemed lifeless, except for some keening sound coming from the back of her throat. There was no way to play with her, no conversing, no way to have our souls connect. Did she even have a soul? I wondered on some days. Is she a person in existence or just flesh and blood created by a fluke? I was back to my existential queries.
With a lack of anything else to do and feeling quite helpless, I lifted her light body out of her gated crib and cradled her close. I closed my eyes, trying to figure out a way to connect, to have her soul hear mine. There seemed to be only one thing for me to do -- sing. Each time I came to visit her I sang soft Jewish songs, non-stop, as her body lay rigid and awkwardly angled in my arms. She didn't make a movement at any time.
I knew that this was reality. Two souls, expressing their existence in the outpouring of their love.
After being away a few weeks I headed back to the girl's room in the hospital, reached over and lifted her again into my arms. I sat myself down in the chair and began to sing. My eyes were closed so I didn't see the movement, but a sudden spasm shook the girl, and her arm, the one that usually dangled limply, suddenly clutched me. I thought I imagined it, thought I imagined the small tear trickling from the sightless eye. And I knew that this was reality. Two souls, mine and hers, expressing their existence in the outpouring of their love.
I knew, beyond any shred of doubt, how very real our existence is.