It’s funny how complete strangers have familiar souls. I was walking with my dog the other day when I met one. He was a little older than I, but what he was going through seemed to coincide with my life.
It was a cold New York day. The wind lashed against my face, digging her claws into my skin. I’d kept indoors but puppy was down with cabin fever. So, I decided to brave the chill and take him to his favorite park.
My dog doesn’t mind frosty weather. Why would he? He’s got the world’s best fur coat. I, on the other hand, hate winters anywhere. Summer gives me a smile. May be, cause I grew up closer to the equator.
My dog’s favorite park has got islands of rock that he loves to hide behind. It has wooden benches where I warm my butt while he jumps about. When there are no dogs in the park, I become his playmate, and we run around crazy chasing each other.
We did pretty much the same that day cause zero dogs showed up. He chased me until I got tired, then I chased him. The wind made running bit challenging for me. After 20-minutes, I pleaded—”Mommy wants to go home!”
But, someone had caught puppy’s eye—a man with a dog that looked like an older version of him. They were standing outside the park, peering through the iron-meshed fence. Tails wagged furiously on either side.
I decided to go outside to say hello. But, I had been bad with my dog’s recall. Every time I called his name, he ran away from me. I tried calling again. He decided to run in circles instead. The stranger, watching from the other side, decided to help.
He walked to the gate armed with treats. He offered one, asking my dog to sit. Dog obeyed. Then he walked few steps away to lure puppy to come closer, commanding sit. Puppy did as told. And finally, he was close enough for the leash to come back on.
I noticed the stranger’s kind eyes and warm smile. They incited a conversation. What do you do? Where do you live? Isn’t the weather horrible? Simple nothings, then more…
I am usually a good listener. But something about the man’s manner urged me to open up. I told him what I did for a living. About how, after getting a dog, I didn’t miss my country anymore. I told him what staying away from family felt like. I told him things, I don’t tell people normally.
I wondered why it was so easy to talk to him?
Then I noticed how he tended to his dog while we spoke to each other. How attentive he was to what she was doing. We had only walked a couple of steps when he’d noticed a faint limp. He checked her feet to see if shards of glass had not accidentally got stuck. All the while, however, he’d also paid attention to my story. Stopping me to ask questions out of genuine curiosity.
As we continued our tête-à-tête, he too opened up. He told me that his dog was his companion throughout his days. She went wherever he went. He told me he taught at a university close by for a living. He liked teaching. It made him feel purposeful—connecting with the youth, shaping their minds. Not all parts of academia were fun for him though. Some were bureaucratic and unnecessary.
He told me he was in a happy place in life. He had learnt to focus on things he enjoyed doing. He was going about everyday, at a pace he enjoyed. He was in his zone, guided by pure energy. May be, that had something to do with his dog?
The stranger’s journey seemed familiar to mine. I too had belonged to the world of academia before coming to the States. Like him, I’d loved only the teaching bits. I hated the paper pushing, politics, and personalities.
I’d abandoned that world to start writing. If I compared myself to my peers today—may be I’d be disheartened by how far I had come. But, I had stopped comparing. I was now satisfied doing the things that made me happy.
My father had advised me to grow at my own pace. “Be a tortoise, if you want to win your race!” The stranger was perhaps on a journey that my father had described. Somehow—even though it all made sense—it seemed paradoxical talking about slowing down under the New York sky.
I looked at my puppy now. His eyes seemed to say—“can we go home mommy?”
“ Wait!” I barked back. “I need to take my friend’s photograph.”
I turned to the stranger and asked permission to click. He obliged.
As I looked through the camera, the stranger didn’t seem strange anymore. He and I were like mirror images, and so were our dogs: