Notice, as a prelude to the story I’m about to tell: I do NOT wear a mask in public, ever, unless “required” inside stores. And even then, don’t cover nose unless a clerk insists (only twice, so far) . . . and frankly, have just about decided to begin to talk back when they do.
I’ve long recognized that my daily walks with puppy Shadow are a spiritual practice, a precious hour when I endeavor to greet everyone whom I pass by in the eye — if they aren’t looking down at a screen — followed by at least a warm smile, and sometimes a “good morning!” or “hello!”
I’ve been doing this for many years.
Beginning in March 2020, and continuing through today, the responsiveness from passers-by has been gradually shifting.
First of all, not so many screens! If the person passing by is masked, they more often seem to be lost in thought, deeply inside their own inner world. Which is, I feel, a good thing. For the masks, while at one level biologically polluting our lungs, are also an invitation to introspection, in — let’s face it — very short supply until everything we took for granted came to a sudden, grinding halt, back in March 2020.
Second, their masks make it easier for me to look them in the eye when the only facial feature I see is their eyes! Since I can’t recognize a “frown” inside a mask, I cheerfully, even at times joyfully, trill out my “hello!” — no matter what their inner state.
Third, since especially the April 26 Scorpio Full Moon, I notice myself becoming more and more up front in my encounters with strangers (see this, for the latest), and am blessed with an uptick in extraordinary meetings, which sometimes blossom into minutes-long miracles.
For example, this morning:
Shadow and I were heading back from our usual 3-4 mile morning walk on a sidewalk we often travel. As we were heading down a slight incline at the edge of a small park, I noticed an unmasked man come out of the house on the corner across that street. The man was walking a dog, an energetic pit bull. By the time Shadow and I got to the same sidewalk, he and his pit pull were about 30 feet ahead of us.
On these occasions, given the size and energy of another person’s dog, I sometimes go to the middle of the street to pass them, and other times I just find excuses to stay behind (lingering with Shadow as he sniffs and pees on various “bulletin boards” marked by other dogs’ pee).
But this morning, somehow the man heard us, and turned around. I asked, “Can they say hello?” my usual question to a dog walker. “Yes!” he responded, “She’s very friendly.” “And Shadow is very diplomatic,” I assured him. The two dogs met, Shadow wagging his tail vociferously to signal harmlessness on his part.
But then the dog came up to me. She was obviously a young dog, and as she got closer, and made some kind of a sudden, surprising move, I freaked internally, and backed off at the same time as the man pulled his dog back. I apologized, said I had been attacked by pit bulls on several occasions —
— and that though I’m fine with pit bulls as well as other dogs we encounter on our walks, a strong, deeply buried memory must still be alerting me to possible danger.
The man apologized profusely, during which I reassured him even more profusely.
That tiny chaotic node set the rest of our conversation in motion.
“I’m not a dog person,” he launched in. “But we have a son who is epileptic, and we heard that this breed can detect when epileptics are about to have a seizure. So we got the dog, and it’s the best dog I’ve ever known. Friendly, alert, and very good for our son.”
What he’s diagnosed with, he said, is “smooth brain. Usually the life expectancy of these kids is about two years. But now he’s fourteen . . .” Then, “Actually, he’s my step-son.”
I asked if there were other children. “Yes, two — my wife’s other son who is 12, and my daughter who is 13.”
Besides the dog, the smooth brain child must have someone with him at all times. Either a parent or the nurse whom they hire five days a week.
I told him I do recall noticing, on that same corner, an obviously developmentally challenged teen-aged boy with a woman in blue scrubs who appeared to be a helper, standing waiting for what I assumed was a school bus.
When I commiserated with this man on how difficult it must be to be bearing this long-term responsibility, this daily burden, he responded “Yes . . . especially when it’s a step-son.” This admission prompted me to deepen the conversation:
“Well, you know,” I began, looking off into the distance, “You might think this crazy, but then you may not. . . When a person is bearing such a heavy, continuous burden in life, I often wonder what were the soul agreements between lives that would have brought these souls together in this way. And,” I continued,”I wonder if the person is asking himself how he has changed internally as a result of this extraordinary challenge. Something about the heart opening . . ?”
At this, he launched into an incredible flow of words, confessing that yes, it’s difficult, and even more difficult, he repeated, because it’s his step-son. “I often wonder why I took on such a challenge, but then,” he continued, “I’ve been with him since he was five or six.”
He zeroed in on why he was suddenly so energized. “A few years ago, we were living closer to Indianapolis, and one day I went as a volunteer to my daughter’s school, where handicapped kids were also bussed in. One of these children suddenly ran over to me, wanted to greet me, hold my hand, hug me, talk to me. I was astonished. Why?
“Later, as I thought about it, I wondered if he sensed that my heart was open to him, that my heart had been wrenched open due to life with our mentally and emotionally challenged son.”
“A few days later,” he continued, “I saw the child again, and this time I was the one who ran up to him! With a big hug and hello.”
Yes! This man did not think me crazy. In fact, my surprise tack in the direction of what is usually considered out of bounds in casual conversation, spurred him to tell me about the hard-won gift he had been granted due to the “burden” of living with a handicapped step-son.
“Had I not experienced life with this son, I would have been more off-putting. I wonder if this handicapped child knew that I was open to him.” As he said this, there was a far-away gleam in his eyes, and joy infused his face.
Earlier, I had said that his dog probably sensed my hidden visceral fear, and that it was fine, I couldn’t blame him for it. But — it was good for me to realize it’s still there!
We continued on in this vein for a few more minutes, our encounter with each other having opened avenues within ourselves that, had we not stopped to let the dogs greet each other, would have not occurred. We were conversing about hidden, invisible currents which we humans nonetheless feel, and which have the capacity to change us, irrevocably. Of course I’m reminded of Neptune, and how it has been infusing daily life
As we parted, I said, “I now know who lives in that corner house!” He replied, “Yes, and if you ever need anything, let us know!”
Both of us turned, full of gratitude, and headed home.
A few minutes later, here comes a masked man. Big mask. Can barely see his eyes. I greet him as usual, about ten feet out. Then, amazing — this has NOT happened before — as we passed each other he rapidly pulled down his mask, and smiled, obviously glad for my permission (not wearing a mask) to be free of the damn thing.
And yet a few minutes later still, another man, this one not masked, but seemingly not open to my greeting either. (Is it because he’s black? I wondered, and thus accustomed to ignoring old white women, given racism, etc.). But then, just as he passed, he called out, “GOOD MORNING!” Astonished, I greeted him in kind, and continued, “How you doing?” “TERRIFIC!” he answered, his face infused with joy.
As you can imagine, these three encounters “made my day.”
All of which makes me wonder: would the heartfelt tone of these encounters with strangers been possible pre-Covid? Or has “the virus” altered us in fundamental ways, even though we don’t always recognize it.
For over a decade, after our morning walks, I’ve intoned, as I hand over his post-walk treat, “This is the BEST DAY EVER! eh Shadow?”
You betcha! It sure is.