Monday, November 7, 2011

On the importance of walking in your neighbourhood

When it comes to communities, I've only lived in a few in my life. Steve and I tend not to move around very much. As it is, the home we built just before we were married, we thought, would be the place we grew old in. It didn't happen that way.

Good thing too. For if we hadn't moved here, we would never have discovered the way one can truly be happy where they live.

There is no better way to learn about your community than walking or riding or jogging amongst it. I have come to realise that part of my lack of movement and desire to get out of the house and exercise was that I wanted to avoid people. You can see people who don't want to be disturbed or nodded to or "Good morning"-ed at as you pass each other and it is something I respect. It doesn't mean they're rude, it doesn't mean they're unfriendly. It could mean a number of other things, though.

But those who are up for a chat, well.... what a treat. In the past week, here are some new residents I have met on my pavement-pounding with Jazz:

•  Frank. I put out a tweet about him on Saturday because I was so taken by his crack-up line. Picture an elderly, barely shuffling gentleman, baggy walking clothes hanging on narrow, frail frame. Cap on head. Surprisingly unlined rough-shaven face and bright blue, sharp eyes. His lovely-natured Doberman is also elderly, but still has plenty of life in her - like dog, like owner. Frank tells me he's been coming to this particular park for twenty-five years. He and his wife retired here to Australia from England when he was in his sixties. That's some life, I think to myself. Frank takes a daily walk with a woman who specifically comes to this park to walk with them and her dog. They have met like this for over six years. When I meet her, I realise why it is either of them would take the time to walk with the other. They are both such wonderful, warm, friendly people and I can tell it is natural for them to just... be as I find them. Refreshing. I feel very blessed, as we walk, that they have allowed me, the interloping stranger with the dog who is barking shrilly because she's not getting a "turn" of the ball - oh, Jazz *sigh* - to join them on their daily ritual and I give quiet thanks that I have been given this opportunity to meet two people in my community whom I previously never knew existed.

"I'm 98," Frank tells me, half-proud and half-disbelieving tone... and then he corrects himself out loud, "Oh no, I'm not. Wait a minute, I'm 89. Oh, what's another decade."

Loved meeting him. I hope there will be other times. It's funny, isn't it, the instant care and concern one can feel towards another. I think this might be the essence of pure love - the detached care for another. Imagine if more of us felt this for more people (indeed, for all living things) without agendas, conditions, judgement or hierarchy. The world would be a far more evolved place, I can bet safely, I'm sure.

•  This morning, I took a 6-kilometre tough round trip that took me over an hour. Steep hills, blissful scenery and bush. I finally wound my way back down into "civilisation" and paved pathways. Jazz and I turned onto a street where there was a bloke in his forties, turning down the same street but on the opposite path. He was in a suit and carried a small terrier under his arm.

"That's a funny handbag," I nodded to him. He grinned (thank God... as soon as I opened my mouth to let out the first thing that hit my brain before I could censor myself, I thought this could end very embarrassingly).

"I couldn't find his lead this morning," the man replied. "And I have to take him for his walk."

I nearly bent over double laughing at the gorgeousness of this. Here's this guy, taking his dog for his morning "walk" because the dog can't do without it. I am still wiping tears. For some reason, this has struck me as so charming. Perhaps it was his suit. Or the fact that it was such a regal-looking little dog, up there in its chariot. Or maybe it's simply because I am recalling the rest of the encounter was one of those rather awkward moments where you don't know if the stranger is still talking to you.... you hear them talking but you're not expecting any more conversation so you've moved on, moved away. And then you hear them say something else. But are they talking to you? There was no one else, he was talking in a loud enough volume that I think I was supposed to hear. But I couldn't hear him. And he wasn't looking at me. But he was doing that loud-talking thing. Aaagh! So I did what any self-respecting stranger would do: I plastered a smile on my face and pretended I wasn't looking over at him to try and catch what he said and I looked off into the middle distance instead. Still with my smile on.

I think we both came away thinking the other was a little strange/crazy. Him for talking to himself and me for grinning at nothing like a loon.

Who's the crazy one? I ask you.

Do you enjoy your neighbourhood?

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