Since becoming a stay at home dad I have gone for countless walks. When the girls were very small I would load them into the double stroller and we would just get out of the house, sometimes for them, sometimes for me. As they have grown our walks have included wagons and tricycles, scooters and big wheels. With us sometimes is their mom and always is our dog.
Our street is pretty as suburban America goes. Palm and oak and maple trees strung together by electrical wires and shading block houses lined up like so many earth-tone Legos. Not much changes. Most have lived here at least as long as we have and the seasons in Florida aren’t so much announced by a change in color as they are by the presence or absence of stifling heat and holiday ornamentation, inflatable or otherwise.
I haven’t always been a walker in the sense of it being a planned activity, but I have grown to love our walks. I like the observational quality of them and I like the idea of walking without destination. I like the natural wane of our collective energy that comes along with us. And I like the connections.
With a limited number of sidewalks around us, our walks often look about the same. Out our driveway and left down the street past our neighborhood news team – Tom covering current events, Tim on sports and Jerry with the weather. As we move, I try to walk with intention, thinking of the words of Thich Nyat Hanh, left and right and breathe. I feel the connection of my feet to the pavement, my hand to the leash to my dog, whom I call my hairiest daughter, and my eyes to my girls.
We see a lot of the same people, as would be expected. The gardeners, the parents, the smokers, the waterers, the other walkers. Mr. G is in his yard or sometimes on his bike, always with his gentle eyes. He is quiet but when his gravelly voice speaks it is kind and usually directed toward the girls. The old woman in her robe never wants me to get her paper for her as I imagine it is her big outing for the day. The tall, gray man forever pruning his bushes has glasses that remind me of Thomas Dolby and an adam’s apple like a walnut. The tired mother swings her busy son on the over-sized tire hung from the tree while his brother in a wheelchair looks on. Many dogs in many windows announce our arrival and silence when we pass.
And then there is my friend whose name I don’t know. We have never shared much more than a wave. I have spoken many times, but I am not sure that he has heard much of what I’ve said. He has labored a few words through a slack mouth and challenging breaths, but not much comes out. He is very old. He looks up at us as soon as we turn the corner and smiles more with his soft eyes than anything else. He seems happy to see us, as we are to see him. He sits in a faded swivel patio chair there in the corner of his garage hunched over thick books that he stares at through thick glasses. I have never seen him anywhere but in that chair. That’s his spot, it seems, and it always makes me think of my own old age, should I be so lucky to get there. I think of his moments and how short and infinite they might seem. His time is without obligation but his movement is limited. He watches us move freely and quickly and maybe is projecting back just as I am projecting forward. And we have found a friendship, albeit silent, right in the middle. I look forward to his smile each time we pass his open garage door and black socks.
Last week he wasn’t in his chair, but the garage door was open. And I wondered. The next day his wife, whom I had never seen before, was standing next to the empty chair, sorting boxes of books, all of those words that he had sat with for so long. She stopped when she saw us and turned to watch as we walked by. I waved and said good morning and she eventually did, too. She looked at us like she knew who we were. And I found myself missing him.
Today the garage door was closed and his chair was sitting on the curb, waiting to be taken away. I felt him rush through my body as so many memories of him that look exactly the same flooded my head. We were connected, he and the girls and I, somehow. We didn’t know each other, had never really met, but I’m sure I will always think of him. There is something to learn here, but I honestly don’t know what it is.
I wonder if maybe we should have stopped to talk with him more, if maybe we should have taken the next logical step to forge a deeper relationship, if maybe the lesson is that these connections should be explored and fully developed. Or maybe it was exactly what it was supposed to be. Maybe changing the dynamic would have somehow shattered its significance to all of us. Maybe the feeling and the silence was all that was supposed to be there. I really don’t know.
But I do wish that I would have at least been able to say goodbye and tell him that he was a special part of so many of our days. Then again, maybe he already knew that.
Image credit: Flickr.com/Lachlan Hardy