“Consequential Strangers” — Part 2

In Consequential Strangers” – Part 1, I mentioned one particular group of people that I see in passing in my daily life that have become important enough to me to merit their own post. So I’ll start by repeating the paragraph I wrote about them in part 1, and try to do them better justice now.

In the next category are the people – and their dogs — that I see a little beyond my neighborhood, on my daily walking route. I have come to depend on seeing them, petting their dogs, getting to know the names of the dogs first, and then sometimes the names of the owners. I think this item on the list deserves its own post, because these people and pets have become important to me, a part of my social life, and a vicarious way to enjoy pets when I don’t have any of my own at this time. 

And here they are.

During my regular walks in the neighborhood just beyond mine, I often run across the same people, and their pets, time and again. Most I know by sight but only smile at and don’t know by name. Some I’ve come to know a little better. A few have become real friends.

There is a small path that I traverse before crossing a busy street to another neighborhood I like to walk in, because it’s a long, attractive street, with a little dog park at the end. A lot of my more important “consequential strangers” are on this long street, but first there is the little path in between, and I often see the same people walking their dogs there.

Among these are two pairs of small white poodles, both obviously deeply cared for. One is walked by one half or the other of an elderly couple – mostly a gentle-looking man, whom I’ve gotten to know a little. The other pair were rescue dogs adopted by a kind lady who works as a nurse, and it’s clear that their lives made a dramatic turn for the better when she took them home with her. They are dressed in sweet little outfits, carried when they’re tired, and are clearly cherished and well-cared for.

She and I often stop to talk, and, though the dogs don’t like to be touched, they will now get close enough to smell my hand or stand on my leg when I bend down to visit with them. I have not seen them lately, so their impending move must have taken place. But they have been a memorable part of my walks for a long time.

Now for the long street with the dog park. Near the beginning of the street live a couple with their daughter and their dog, Blitz, a large, friendly Rottweiler. At first glance he looks as powerful and impressive, maybe even intimidating, as his name would merit. So much so that when I first came across him, years ago now, I asked his owner if the dog was friendly. Basically I was asking if it was safe for me to get close.

He assured me Blitz was quite harmless, and soon Blitz reassured me even more. In fact, I privately call him Bliss. He is sweet, affectionate, and certainly not threatening. He likes to sit on my foot and lean against me while I practice my dog massage techniques on him.

He is famous in the neighborhood, and enthusiastically greets other neighbors as they go by. Like I mentioned before, though I’ve had cats or dogs much of my life, I don’t live with any pets now, and I miss them, so Blitz gets his massage and I get to enjoy a little canine companionship and affection.

Visiting with him, and his friendly and interesting “parents” if they happen to be outside when I go by, is one of the highlights of my walk. In fact, my neighborhood walks have become a kind of social network for me, a much needed resource for an introvert who often works at home. Though I have plenty of friends I can and need to spend time with, I enjoy being and working at home, by myself, and could easily become a recluse.

But my daily walk (or two) has become important to me, not only for the exercise, but for a change of scenery, a bit of fresh air and “green space,” and a break both from work and from solitude. I appreciate the brief but meaningful human contact and conversation, and it gives me a real feeling of community.

At the risk of revealing my age, and the fact that I sometimes diverge from more intellectually stimulating pursuits into a bit of mindless escapism, I’ll mention that in some ways these walks remind me of the words of a theme song from an 80’s sitcom – “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

My frequent walks in my extended neighborhood are like a healthier version of this same idea, of seeing the same people in the same setting frequently enough to feel a sense of connection and belonging. Consequential “strangers,” heavy on the consequential.

With most of the people I see, we just nod or say hello and go on our way, but they have become part of my “community.” These casual encounters help to connect me to my extended neighborhood and to my fellow human beings, however casual and transitory our meetings may be.

Though I am reluctant to adopt the casual use of the word “friend,” a relationship I take very seriously, my conversations with the various acquaintances I frequently meet up with on my walks are certainly more real and meaningful than many that some may have only on a computer screen. This is face to face contact with real people who live near me, and whom I see repeatedly.

These brief encounters often provide a bit of creative fodder as well. For instance, there is the lady who jogs on the treadmill in her garage, facing out into the street. I find the situation a little ironic, but amusing. I’m not sure why she jogs on the treadmill in the garage, while looking out on the street, instead of just doing her jog on the street. Maybe its a bit of a best of a both worlds scenario: inside but looking outside, and with some fresh air coming in; treadmill features but out in nature too; privacy but a bit of interaction as well; and she gets to watch everyone else pass by.

We’ve gotten used to seeing each other, and sometimes we’ll wave as I bustle by. I haven’t seen her lately, though, so I hope I do soon. Maybe she’s taken to moving beyond her garage after all.

Some I see only once, or now and then, but they make an impression on me, like the sweet-looking elderly couple whom I saw walking down the street hand in hand, then taking a turn in the little park. This seems like the most romantic version of “growing old together” in action. I find it inspiring.

There are other elderly ones I often see out walking, some with a cane or obvious difficulty, and I admire their tenacity. And I often pass one dapper-looking older gentleman, dressed nicely and walking briskly. He reminds me of a retired professor. We often wave as we pass by on opposite sides of the street.

Then there is someone, a woman about my age, whom is see frequently, and who is a bit of a puzzle to me. She walks around in circles in a route similar to my own close to home, though I’ve never seen her on the long street in the neighborhood beyond mine. She must live close to me, but I’ve never seen where her walks begin.

She is clearly health-conscious, walking diligently, and wearing a hat to protect herself from the sun. But unlike so many others I’ve gotten used to seeing and sharing friendly exchanges with, she doesn’t seem to want to talk at all, and sometimes appears to barely tolerate my smile or wave. She’ll smile too, but looks a bit strained. At first I tried to talk to her, without much response. I think she is wearing headphones, and maybe talking on the phone.

Now I feel awkward when I pass her, wanting to respect her privacy, but feeling rude if I don’t acknowledge her at all, especially since we literally cross paths so often – sometimes twice on the same walk. I wonder what her story is. Where she lives, what she’s listening to, why she walks when and where she does, why she doesn’t seem to want to talk to me.

It may turn out that we have other things in common, like our walking route, but I may never get the chance to find out.

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So these are some of my most prominent “consequential strangers” for this one demographic, my extended neighborhood walking route. So many stories I get only the smallest glimpses of, but they make a difference in my life.

And that nice couple that belong to Blitz — our conversations have gradually gotten longer and deeper, and it turns out we have some important things in common we never would have guessed at first. So now I consider them more than “consequential strangers,” and in fact potential good friends.

You never know what you’ll find when you walk a little beyond your front door, and pay attention to all the faces you could otherwise take for granted.

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