I ambled with squirrels and rabbits on an urban trail overflowing with chaparral and mossy oak. Early morning bird chatter, drone of bugs in rays of sun, and the crackle of underbrush beneath my feet kept me company. My thoughts wandered brisk as the sound of river water on rock.
A man wearing a holey T-shirt and sweatpants approached me, accompanied by a large German Shepherd. The dog was off leash but seemed friendly. The man had a vacant stare, and as I passed him I gave a perfunctory smile and “Good morning.”
He didn’t even note my existence nor change his faraway gaze, and I immediately snickered at his lack of basic human decency. Shaking my head, I glanced back at him. He had stopped, looking up at the cloud-threshed sky, and suddenly emitted an unearthly wail.
My first reaction was to run the opposite way. But his cry seemed more of grief than a crazed person, so I paused and decided to backtrack. The dog came up to me and licked my hand. From a safe distance, I asked the stricken man if he was okay.
Tears streaming, he regarded me and sobbed, “My wife just died of cancer.”
I felt bad and apologized for sneering at his strange silence toward me. I also moved closer to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. He briefly wept on my arm.
I asked him his name: Dan.
His dog’s name: Robbie.
Dan pulled back and said “Sorry” for staining my hoodie with his tears.
I gripped his hand and said, “No worries Dan, I wish you peace out here in nature.”
Then I patted Robbie and said, “Keep taking your master on walks, get that sun and hike on.” Or some such lame cliché.
We nodded and turned down different paths, both staggering away from this brief contact.
We are all going through something, whether remote or sharable, and our humanity is in finding unconditional compassion instead of always acting coldly professional. The surprise in life is how we bravely endure through the constancy of pain.
Arroyo Grande, California