He is a tall, lean man in his seventies, walking a tiny brown short-haired dog. He walks leading with his head, his whole body looking like a moving question mark.
The first time I saw him was a warm fall evening. Carmen, my Golden Retriever rescue girl went to greet the little dog, as she does with all dogs she meets, and I try to strike a conversation with the man, as I do with most dog parent neighbours I meet.
The man pulls the tiny dog away and says: “I don’t like dogs”.
“But you walk a dog” I ask, wondering.
“I don’t like dogs, but I like walking” replies the man, his face muscles stiff like stone, showing no signs of emotion. Then he adds: “This is not my dog, it’s my granddaughter’s”. Then he walks away.
Every time we cross our paths during dog walks, the dogs pull towards each other to greet, and the grumpy dog granddad yanks the leash and pulls the tiny dog away, almost getting him flying. Every time this happens, I get grumpy. I grow heavy and tight in my chest and I run a quick mental list with everything wrong with this man.
This morning, however, I had a different idea. It is a brilliantly sunny day with clear azure skies, a hope-filled peak-preview into the Spring arrival. Walking towards each other, I softened my gaze, slowed down my breath and let it drop into the belly, and imagined that I had swallowed the sun who is now shining brightly right inside my heart, glowing out to infinity in all the directions, including tiny brown dog and grumpy ol’ grandpa into my vast glowing bubble. As we crossed each other and the pups managed to sneak a brief nose-to-nose sniff, I said: “Good morning”. Grandpa’ replied a barely audible “G’ mo’” and kept walking.
And then I asked myself what it was like to be this man. Whatever has happened in his life? What did he go through? What was it like for him to be his parents’ little boy? Was he allowed to play outside with other children? Was he admonished often? Was he ever praised?
As I ran this mental inquiry in my imagination, my heart warmed up and softened, my eyes got moist with tears of compassion, and my breathing became spacious and deep. I turned around to escort the man and the not-his-dog with my gaze, wishing him - them - peace and well-being.
And for these moments I won the battle with the inner trolls and made some way towards a kinder heart and greater flow of love for my own sake, my neighbour’s and hopefully for you.