Of wisp and ashes

June 26, 2008

“Shawn is my name,” he says, holding out a small gnarled hand.

Shawn shows no hint that he minds me, a stranger, flagging him down as he zips past my house on his electric cart. He answers personal questions with no hesitation, no suspicion.

I ask to photograph him and the dog perched at his feet. “That’s Pappy. He’s a pappilon. Couldn’t make it without him.”

As we talk on a shady Northeast Portland street, Shawn smiles often. I expected a different demeanor.

Shawn has passed my home office window dozens of times. Last summer, he wore shorts and no shirt. His wisp of a body looked as if it might defy gravity any second, and Pappy would wonder where he went. Now he’s just as thin, but up close his eyes beam a strength not of muscle.

Shawn says he’s 45 and weighs 88 pounds, his voice matter-of-fact as if discussing the weather. Afflicted with muscular dystrophy since infancy and never having topped 93 pounds, he’s thankful he can roam a mile or two, grocery shop, and what not. The disease, he says, killed his older brother.

And then he’s off with a wave. Swirling in his wake are ashes that had been my burden of daily complaints.