He is walking towards us at the park where Ellie, my golden retriever, and I walk. It is quiet. Not many people out on this blustery January afternoon, even though the weather is uncharacteristically warm. I am conscious of Ellie’s tendency to want to greet everyone we pass and so I shorten her leash and hold on tightly.
As I have made a commitment to greet everyone we pass on the trail, I smile as we approach each other and say, “Hello.”
I’m not expecting much of a response. He doesn’t look like he’s in the mood for greetings of the Ellie kind so I am surprised when he stops and says hello back and asks if he can say hello to Ellie who is straining at her leash.
I smile and let her bound over to him. At 11, Ellie doesn’t know she’s a senior citizen. She leans into his legs, squirms and groans and makes noises as if to say, “Oh thank you thank you. No one ever pays attention to little ole’ me.”
Ellie is a con artist.
The man laughs, takes off his gloves and rubs her haunches. Ellie is in heaven.
“She loves people,” I tell him.
“I can tell,” he says and then he bends down and looks her in the face and rubs her ears. He looks up at me. “I used to have a retriever. She wasn’t as big as this one. I had to let her go last July.” And he rubs Ellie’s head some more.
She has become uncharacteristically quiet, as if she knows exactly what is needed without my having to remind her to calm down. “It was hard. My wife passed away just before that. Been married 48 years. Kids are all moved away.” And he stands up and looks at me and says, “Not many people stop to say hello out here.”
He places one hand on Ellie’s head as if in benediction. “Thank you,” he says before walking away.
And I don’t know if he’s talking to Ellie or me or his pet who is no longer here or his wife who passed away.
And it doesn’t matter. In our encounter I am reminded. Expect the unexpected. There’s always an opportunity to stop and make a difference, even when you least expect it.