Sunday, December 28, 2008


Home for the holidays.
For several days I had been expecting to see someone I knew in my hometown. Familiar faces get more scarce as the years go by, but as it was Christmas time, I thought other people might be visiting.
No one.
Sitting at home, getting frustrated.
I woke up one morning knowing I was supposed to go looking.
That afternoon, I set out, walking east, expecting to see someone. I knew several people who lived in that direction. Bundled up, I slid on ice, stepped over snow banks. I was recovering from a cold, and each frosty breath I took cleared my head.
But it was still missing. Where? I saw no one I knew.
I crossed the street and walked there. I tiptoed over a bridge and paused to search the stream below. Icy water, empty.
Trouble ahead. The sidewalk ended. The street was icy and winding, with occasional cars. Safer to go home.
I threw one desperate look east, scanning the horizon. No.
With a sigh, I turned back, picking my way around sidewalks that were skating rinks, while I had no skates.
My head down, I struggled to discern the message in my finding nothing.
Suddenly, movement ahead made me look up. I was crossing the street to a corner house.
A young collie was smiling at me. Leaving its front yard, it trotted towards me, then leapt up, shaking my hands and stretching to kiss my face.
I looked at the house, then back at the dog. I remembered 4 years earlier. I was on a walk and feeling lost, and a thick old collie trotted out of its front yard to greet me as if it knew me. I saw it a few more times and was always greeted with a smile. A year or two after that, I walked by that way, but never saw the dog again. It had been old, I thought. But I missed it like an old friend.
Back in the present, I looked down at this lean, bright collie, who grinned ecstatically when I petted him, like he had found something.
The dog's owner called him inside, and he went without looking back. I watched him go, and then continued my walk. I had a scarf around my mouth against the cold, and under it, I laughed with relief.
I had gone out looking for an old friend, and one found me. Except this old friend was new, and special. This dog knew that recognition sometimes strikes at nonsensical times, and that acting on it with pure love is higher wisdom than second-guessing oneself and being embarassed into feigning ignorance.
I spent much of high school pulling back in some way from people I felt this connection with, afraid of what it meant. If it was a boy, did it mean he was my soulmate? If it was a girl, did it mean we were supposed to be best friends?
Easier to hide under an ironic nonchalance. Easier to deal with friendly people I felt no connection with.
For me, these moments of recognition continue to be mysterious, but I try not to let my imagination get carried away with what they should mean. In their purest form, I believe they serve as affirmations, affirmations that each human being is special in a deeper way than is usually apparent. If we pretend this recognition does not exist, we might rob ourselves or someone else of a moment of affirmation. But if we make too much of it, then we might steal something from them or disappoint ourselves--attribute this special feeling to them and feel bereft when they leave us. But I don't think these moments reside in people. I think they are a gift of Something greater. The dog awoke something in me that perhaps is always there but falls asleep. I do not have to own the dog for me to feel this connection, this third party that arrives in my heart after our meeting.
I had set out to find one of the people I had hid from in high school. The dog found me and did not hide and affirmed my presence, brightening my life. May I not hide from others but greet them as special without requiring more of them or of myself.