The Stranger I Met Today

Walking my dog through the park provided a brisk break and a lesson about asking questions.

For many of us, Christmas is a magical time. Lights twinkle in the night as they hang from trees, causing us to drive slower on the way home to admire our neighbor’s handiwork. Hugs and smiles are everywhere and we give them up a little easier.  We talk and laugh with family and friends and stay for just one more drink. There are presents and desserts and then after the presents and desserts, there is always one more gift to open and one more cookie to try. After awhile, though, some of us need a break from the magic and a break from the indoors. 

Here in South Jersey, we celebrate Christmas as the winter season begins to gain momentum. This year, there was a blustery, biting wind and a tease of snow for Christmas that remained with us through New Year’s and will probably continue through the next few winter months. By New Year’s Eve, even with the low temperatures and the dampness in the air, I needed to get out of the house. I needed some distance from the merriment. I wanted company that afternoon, but not the chatty kind, so I asked my favorite walking companion if he’d brave the winter cold with me.  He responded by wagging his tail with gusto. I told Woody, my yellow British Labrador Retriever, that he’d have to walk through the entire park, despite the sting of winter. He wagged his tail even harder, so I knew he was on board. 

Woody and I took the long route, passing the athletic fields and crossing into the wooded trails. From there, we looped back around and walked along a small stream on the other side of the park. We have our rhythm, Woody and I, and we know that there’s no pressure for chitchat, presents, or cookies, although he does appreciate it when I happen to have some treats in my pocket for him. We were walking along the trail on our way back to the car and Woody perked up. He had either heard or saw something in front of us. A man walking his dog, a dog that was mostly German Shepherd, could be seen about sixty feet away. 

“Hello!” the man called out to us. Woody attempted to leap ahead to greet these new friends, but I pulled back on his leash to remind him to curb his forwardness. 

“Hi. Happy almost New Year to you. To both of you,” I said. 

“To you as well,” the man said as he and his dog continued to walk towards us.  The approaching dog wore a red and black checkered poncho and had started to excitedly buck as we advanced. I saw the man look at Woody and open his mouth to speak. He closed his mouth and continued to look at Woody. Again, he opened his mouth to speak and then closed it. We were close enough to nearly pass each other and again, he started to speak for a third time. I wanted to know what he wanted to say. Did the sight of Woody offend him? Did he recognize him? Woody and I were close enough to see his neck strain forward and eye squint in question. 

Finally, the man spoke. 

“What type of dog is that exactly?” the man asked, still staring at Woody. We had continued to walk, so we had actually passed each other, however, both dogs were trying their darndest to convince their respective walkers to circle back so they could greet each other properly. 

“He’s a British Lab,” I said.  The man said nothing, so I continued, “they’re a little smaller and stockier than American Labs.” 

“Oh, I was wondering about that,” he responded as we continued to move farther away from each other.

Lesson Learned

I didn’t want that man to get all the way the home, regretting not asking whatever it was that he wanted to ask. Everything about that man’s body language told me that he had something to say. He wanted to know about my dog and he opted to inquire, despite his strange reservations. It was easy enough to share some information with him, so I’m happy he asked. In the briefest of encounters, I was reminded that if there’s something you want to know, just ask. 

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