We’ve had a string of absolutely gorgeous weather—many degrees above average temperatures and bright sunshine after a couple of weeks of chill and gloom. It started on election day—hope that’s an omen of better times to come. And my experience on a recent afternoon seems promising in that regard, also. I’m just hoping for reconciliation, less ugliness, more community feeling, that kind of thing. My concern is less political than community-centered.
Because the day was so lovely, I decided to take Maise for a quick walk in the park, which she loves, before heading to the barn to take care of my horse Galahad. The morning had passed too quickly and I was running way behind—I needed to be back at the house by 12:45 in order to attend my Quaker Meeting online at 1:00.
The plan was to take a quick, fifteen-minute jaunt around the upper, paved portion of the walking trail near the parking lot. Maise never seems to care where we go. After all, there are wonderful smells and places to pee everywhere. But we hadn’t gotten more than a few hundred feet along the path when I noticed the head of the little trail that goes down through the woods, winds around near the creek, then circles back to the far side of the parking lot. That would take more like an hour to tour with an inquisitive dog. There clearly wasn’t time.
But there was a quiet, insistent voice in the back of my mind: You could do that instead. I started to argue about how far behind I was, but then slowed down enough to really feel into the choice. Yes. I needed that, especially on the day after the election here in the States, while all the angst was still strong and upsetting. So, following this gentle leading, Maise and I turned downhill into the woods.
The silence was striking. Even though there was the usual sound of traffic in the distance and of some heavy machinery half a mile or so down and across the creek, there remained a feeling of deep quiet and peace under the trees. I could feel myself relax. But I’ll miss the Meeting! Part of my brain was still fussing about that.
Suddenly I could feel a kind of space open up, and the faces of all the Friends in my community appeared on the “Zoom screen” inside my head. OK, I thought. I’ll just attend Meeting here, as I walk. Sure enough, the sense of their presence stayed with me; it felt warm and real, immediate and supportive.
It’s very difficult to describe these sorts of experiences in words. All you can do is give the barest hint, and unless the reader has had such experiences herself, it won’t make a lot of sense. But it can be profound. I walked in a state of gratitude and joy, and felt like my friends were all right there with me.
Along the way Maise and I met some folks out for a stroll, and we chatted for a bit (at a safe distance, of course) about how these woods felt like the perfect place to be on this particular day. Farther along, we clambered down a steep bank (well, Maise ran and I clambered) to the stream bank, where she sniffed along the water’s edge and I picked up a lovely, smooth rock to tuck in my pocket. I breathed freely for what seemed like the first time in days.
We had nearly reached the sharp turn back up to the parking lot when I saw, coming up from the bed of a little feeder creek, a young man of maybe 20 or so…and a tiny fuzzball of an old dog, off leash. Startled, I realized that this was the same young fellow whom we had met last spring right after the pandemic started causing us all to keep our distance. He and I had gotten into an altercation about his dog being off leash and my being on the trail at all (or so it seemed at the time).
You’ll need some background here. If you want to read about the episode, it’s the one before this one (“An Angry Young Man“). The short version is that someone had sprayed a few of the larger trees along the path with a particularly nasty version of the political squabble of the day. The young man and I had both stumbled on it, and (as so often happens with people) had not realized that our anger was not with each other but with those who had defiled the woods. Instead, we found other annoyances to vent about, and things just exploded. I, for sure, was not my best self in those moments, and had regretted it ever since. But I never, ever expected to be able to set things right. After all, I’d never see the fellow again (or wouldn’t recognize him if I did, given my face blindness). So this encounter, complete with that unmistakable little old dog, felt like a real Godsend. It felt like it arose out of the feeling of gratitude and spiritual community that had been present for the entire walk.
The little fuzzball stopped (he seems to be half-blind), took a good sniff of Maise and her energy, and came bounding and bumbling along the trail toward us. Once again, I was nearly pulled off my feet by Maise’s playfulness, but we’ve gotten a bit better about that.
“Hey there!” I called out. “I recognize you! You’re the fellow we met last spring, and you and I got into quite a fight about the graffiti.”
“Yeah,” he replied.
“That was really ugly stuff.”
“You can say that again!” So obviously, he remembered the incident, too.
And then I apologized. “You sure didn’t see the best of me that time! I am so sorry it went that way!” Finally, the opportunity to explain, to make things right. Thank you, God!
It was a brief conversation. But he knelt down, asked Maise’s name, and petted her.
“I never thought I’d get the opportunity to make things better,” I said. “This is wonderful.”
“Well, that’s the thing about these public trails. You see the same people,” he replied, petting the dogs, who knew nothing about all the human craziness. They just wanted to play.
He stood up to walk on, nearly but not quite six feet from us. Finally, he very briefly made eye contact—such a reserved fellow…. “We’ll see you next time! Bye, Maise!” And they walked and bumbled on down the trail.
Gratitude. Immense gratitude. Such a blessing for me (and maybe for him, too). And all because I followed a tiny suggestion from Spirit and just opened my heart to beauty, peace, and opportunity.
So yes—maybe the blessings of reconciliation, of community, of peace, are within our reach after all. I have hope.