It was determined the minute I awoke to sunshine; I would take the dog and the little one on a long run. All efforts of the morning pointed to that hope, that mission in need of undertaking, those miles my feet ached to cover, the vitamin D my body wanted, the oxygen I craved, the exertion for all of us, housebound in the winter.
I took the first four streets out of my neighborhood with ease, settling into a rhythm, the dog attached to the stroller. I curved onto the path east and said hello to a white-haired woman pushing a wheel chair in slow motion. We exchanged pleasantries, her pealing gratitude to see the mountain revealed from the inversion once again, and a quick “Yep, there it is,” from me, as I ran past. I rounded another curve, and I thought of the woman, so eager to say something to me. I kept running and I thought of the deep folds in her wide face, the easy smile, her hair neat in a loose knot curved along her head, like a wisp-less Gibson girl. “I bet she was pretty once upon a time,” the thought came from nowhere, and then I stopped thinking that thought as soon as it started because with it came another thought, sister to it: “I bet she was a lot of things once upon a time.”
I didn’t want to do it, but I knew I was supposed to. I spent at least two minutes trying to talk myself out of it, but I know this to be true: if I want Heavenly Father to ask me for help, if I want him to know that I’m someone down here who cares, then I need to listen.
Right then I got a phone call from my groomer and I had to stop mid-stride: Could I get my dog in earlier today? She had an opening; she was anxious. “Sure,” I said absently, “I’ll get her there.” I tucked my phone back into the stroller and realized something key: I had stopped. I was standing on a trail. I wasn’t running.
So, I turned around and I walked toward the woman with white hair and as she approached I doubted myself but said this anyway, “Can I walk with you?” She said, “I can’t keep up with you.” And I said, “That’s OK. I want to walk with you, at your pace.”
Which was a snail’s pace, and enemy to what my legs really wanted.
She talked to me while we walked. For and hour and a half. About her best friend; about her stroke; about her days as a school teacher in Montana; about an award she won (twice!) as a teacher; about how she found a pen when she was little and took it then promised Heavenly Father that she’d never be dishonest again.
And then she would circle back to talking about her friend again. How her friend had hurt her; how she feels like she hasn’t a soul to talk to anymore, because everyone her age is deaf.
By this point I had to get my dog to the groomers and so I started to lead us there and she followed. I invited her with inside with me; she said she’d better get home. “If you wait, I can help you,” I said and she was exasperated: “I’m not helpless. I just can’t remember anything.”
Still, I watched her from the window of the groomers before walking back to check my dog in. As I did, the groomer walked out of her room and saw me and started to shake. Her eyes filled with tears and she said, looking at my dog, “I love Goldens.” And she broke down, crying big sobs in earnest, her tears mixed with her eyeliner and mascara and leaving black tracks along her cheeks. She told me how her own golden died three days earlier, how the dog was poisoned and died on her bed, how she was heartbroken, how her son was heartbroken too. “You can love Sunny (my dog) as long as you want,” and I handed the dog over and the woman fell to crying in Sunny’s fur.
I touched her arm, her back; I let her cry. It was no use trying to get any of my morning back so I gave into it. I listened.
Later, I trailed the street my white-haired friend would have taken, just to make sure she made it back to the nursing home. I could still see her in the distance, her hair made almost invisible by the angle of our lovely sun, and I lingered back, a heart full of too much to process.
It wasn’t love I felt exactly, as I wandered back home, no dog to keep in check, a boy who’d grown tired of the stroller and walked by me but off the path, in the frozen weeds, patches of snow. We took it slower than before, my little one’s strides quicker than my white-haired friend’s, but more circuitous and curious. We stopped so he could climb fences and peer into the creek. We stopped so he could tell me things. We flat out stopped one time and I don’t know why, but he asked me to take a picture.
I was caught up in what seemed to be a query with my Heavenly Father—is that what You wanted? Did those women need your ears? Am I your ears? What about my run? One measly run! But I heard him, barely.
And I took the picture.