My Friends on the Walking Path
I have lived on or near a walking path for about 15 years. I like it because it's easy to go out for a run or to walk the dogs. I can just head out my door and onto the path. I don’t have to watch for cars, I can enjoy the nearby greenbelt and be entertained by the happenings of the canal, with its resident ducks and geese, and occasional turtle or cormorant. But during the age of Covid, along with most everything else in the world, life along the walking path changed. My neighborhood took to it in droves. People walked, ran, cycled, did Tai Chi and CrossFit in the parkways next to it, and generally used it as a way to escape the isolation of the pandemic.
I’m learning the value of connecting at this point in my life, and how worth it is to just acknowledge the wonder of another human being out enjoying the day.
As the strangeness continued, lots of us slowed down, reevaluated what was important to us, spent more time looking and listening than doing, and generally started paying greater attention to what was right in front of us. In spite of that, it took me a while to adjust. Even in retirement, I still struggle with just being in this moment. Earlier this year, I began to feel that changing—particularly when I was on that walking path. I started to really notice the same people every day. We had conversations, they commented if I was running alone, they offered dog treats when I was out with Nugget and Remy, and we got to know each other. Obviously, we didn’t grow close, but we connected. At first, I took it for granted a bit, but gradually, I started to understand what good fortune I enjoyed just by living in this neighborhood with these people.
The big lesson came from the people in the photo above. I know now that they are Suzanne and Kee, and I only know this because today I asked them if I could take their picture and, when they graciously agreed, we exchanged names. But this came many months after I first noticed them. And I have to say, the reason I noticed them is because they were so sweet and welcoming and kind to me. We pass each other almost daily, sometimes twice—once during my run and once during the dog walk. And what they do when they see me is wave and smile (I can see that they are smiling, even under their masks). They always say something sweet or encouraging, as if they are invested in my successful run or bark-free dog walk. Of course, they don’t know me, so they are no doubt like this simply because they are kind people. Plus, I am relatively sure they do this with every person they see regularly on the walking path. Still, seeing them makes me very happy.
I know nothing else about these two very loving people. I don’t know if they have things in their lives that make them sad, or what their politics are, or what their lives are like. What I know is that they take themselves out for a lovely long walk every morning. They walk slowly, sometimes one in front of the other, if one is conversing with someone else and slows down. And they have fun—at least it looks like fun to me. They engage in what they are seeing and doing.
I often think about these two later in the day, like when I’m struggling to write something, or I’m trying to get myself to complete a chore I’ve been putting off. I think of their energy and their presence and their willingness to just put it out there for the people they pass in the mornings. I think of the way their faces light up, their laughter, and their kindness, and I think about how much that means to me. It’s so simple, really, to just connect with the people we literally walk past in our day. We are often so caught up in our own dramas, though, that we see people, but we don’t really stop and see them, much less speak to them or smile at them. I’m learning the value of connecting at this point in my life, and how worth it is to just acknowledge the wonder of another human being out enjoying the day.