One of the best things to come out of working for myself was meeting people I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to meet had I been working a 9-5 job. About a year into being an entrepreneur, I discovered that there was a lake not too far from my house with walking trails. I can also walk on top of the dam which is paved and about a half mile long from end to end. It’s an easy walk with beautiful views of the lake and surrounding woodlands and fields. During the winter months, it’s too windy and cold to walk comfortably, but from mid-April until about mid-November it’s the perfect place to let your mind wander and commune with nature. I’ve seen deer, foxes, groundhogs, rabbits, Great Blue Herons, geese, ducks, hawks, and even Bald Eagles. I’ve also met many dogs and their humans.
Because I walk when many people are heading to work, the people I run into are overwhelmingly folks who are enjoying their retirement years. There are some couples, but mostly I encounter people by themselves or walking their dogs. When I first started walking at the dam, I kept to myself. I might give a quick wave or a polite “good morning” to passersby. It didn’t take long before I started to recognize people (or at least their dogs). I learned who was friendly and who refused to make eye contact. Little by little the polite “good mornings” expanded to friendly small talk: “it’s going to be a hot one today” or “did you see the ducklings at the other end of the dam?”
Soon I knew the names of everyone’s dogs. So typical of me to learn the dog’s name before I introduced myself to the owner! But nobody seemed to mind. There is Andy, the sweet and docile Welsh Springer Spaniel, Roxy and Jazz, the red-haired Vizslas, Charlie the yellow lab, and Scully, the black mutt with white feet and a white-tipped tail. Scully always looked like he was taking his owners for a walk, pulling them along the path. There are countless other canine friends as well. I grew up with cats and dogs and currently have two cats. It’s nice to have “puppy time.”
Dogs have a way of breaking down barriers and before I knew it, I began to make friends with many of the “dam people.”
One of my favorite couples was Sharron and Terry. Sadly, Terry passed only two months ago. They belonged to Scully. Retired for several years, Sharon and Terry were about 73 when I met them. Although retired, they were politically active and informed on every issue. They were very liberal and passionate about topics like conservation and racial equality. Sharon grew up in San Francisco and moved to Massachusetts in the early seventies. Sharon is outgoing, funny, and whip-smart. Terry was quieter and had a kind presence. His hair was shoulder-length and completely white. Usually, he’d wear it in a ponytail and a black painter’s cap. Often, I’d see him walking Scully on the other side of the dam and when he’d spot me, he’d give me a big wave. As a young man, Terry had been in the Navy. He later worked for the phone company for many years. Sharon was a college librarian. They had two kids, now adults, but no grandchildren.
Whenever I would see Sharon, Terry, and Scully, we’d stop and talk. Our talks became longer and longer and eventually, they invited me to their house for coffee. I loved going to their house. It looks like a red cabin in the woods. I would usually go over early and we’d sit in their cozy, lived-in kitchen, filled with books and photos and the smell of fresh-brewed coffee. There were many stories and laughs shared around that kitchen table. A few times during early Fall, I’d go over when the sun went down and we’d sit around their fire pit and drink hot chocolate. Sharon would always make a huge bowl of popcorn. Scully would go from chair to chair, hoping for a stray piece of popcorn and maybe a good head scratch.
As the autumn turned to winter, as per usual, my trips to the dam stopped. I’d check in with Sharon and Terry via email. In January I emailed and didn’t hear back for a long while. When she did get back to me, she let me know that Terry had been having a really rough time with leg pain and that the doctors were looking into it. Then, for a few months, there was radio silence. When Sharon did write, it was to tell me that Terry had an aggressive form of cancer. He was going through chemo and the prognosis, although not great, wasn’t hopeless either. It was all happening so fast. One minute Terry was fine and then in the next, he was battling cancer. I pictured him losing his beautiful flowing white hair and I felt so sad for both of them.
Then, two months ago, I received an email from Sharon that Terry had passed. There was no funeral. Terry didn’t want that. But he did have one wish: for everyone to be kinder to one another. Right before I started my new job, Sharon invited me over. It was late in the afternoon and brutally hot, but we sat on her shaded front porch and drank iced coffee. Terry’s absence was palpable and I felt a pang of sadness for Scully, who no longer had his best friend to take him on walks. Sharon was doing remarkedly well. She’s made of strong stuff. She explained that Terry was in so much pain in those last few days that there was some relief in no longer having to watch him suffer.
When I got word that I was hired by my new company, my only concern was that I would have to abandon my morning walks, walks that have very little to do with exercise, and more to do with feeling grounded and at peace.
It’s also a place where I’ve met good people and forged new, unlikely friendships. But luckily, I had laid the groundwork for a perfect fit and found a job where I get to walk at least four mornings a week. Each time I get to the dam—typically at sunrise—I feel so incredibly grateful. That may sound cliché or over-the-top, but I mean every word. I don’t take a second of it for granted. And as I peer over the dam, I swear I can see Terry walking, his white hair blowing in the breeze, waving to me as he disappears among the trees.