By now, surely, you know how this works: you pay us a visit, any day you choose, right around eleven a.m., we leash up my two dogs, Maggie and Toby, and we take a walk, from the mundane to the sublime. Each walk begins where our driveway pavement ends and the wonders begin.
It Was a Day Like Any Other Day
Meaning overcast, this being Olympia, Washington, in the spring, temps in the fifties, and for this walk, gratefully, there was no rain. The dogs were reasonably well-behaved on their walk, not barking too much, quite content to smell items of interest and soak in the ambiance which is our neighborhood. Only twice did Toby tug on the leash, hoping to chase a squirrel. Only once did Maggie want to stop to roll in the gravel, satisfying some sudden itch.
We briefly visited with the regulars, those people we see on most of our walks, and treats were dispersed for good behavior.
We had just turned the corner on our block, close to home, when I noticed a car parked at the curb of our home. I did not recognize the car, but I certainly recognized the driver as she stepped out of the vehicle and approached us with a smile. She was carrying a box in one hand and a dreamcatcher in the other.
I had known her as Misha nearly thirty years earlier, the first meeting, me a Social Studies teacher, her a budding 7th grader. At that time she was painfully shy, her parents immigrants, her English awkward, her confidence nearly non-existent. Today she goes by Michala, forty-something, married, children, and carries herself with confidence borne from the experience one gains from taking on life’s challenges and coming out the other side victorious.
We didn’t hug at first, that being the norm for these pandemic days, but we smiled and exchanged pleasantries. She is a beauty, make no mistake in that, a mature woman who radiates calmness, happiness, and love. She has witnessed ugliness. She has experienced pain. And she has risen above it all, found the love within her, and that love has carried her to this time, this place, her own serenity garden growing wherever she goes.
I showed her the house, the improvements we have made, invited her on a quick walk around the block, the dogs much too excited to allow us to just sit and talk, and then we arrived back on our front porch, a fine place for catching up on the years.
I would be hard-pressed now, a couple months later, to tell you the details of our conversation. They were the odds and ends of life, minutiae we all share in similar conversations, filling in gaps, smiling, laughing, and besides, because of social media, we knew quite a bit about each other, so a full retelling of the past thirty years was not necessary.
The Familiarity of Old Friends
It’s an interesting phenomena, when two old friends come together, separated for many years by time and fate. There is a comfort in it. There is no need for forced conversation. There is no need for small talk, or breaking the ice, or any of the tiptoeing strangers do upon meeting. It’s as though those two old friends had never been separated by the years. They cover themselves in the familiarity. They snuggle under the covers of safety, the type of safety one can only feel when with a person totally-trusted.
I have always felt that with Misha. She is a solid person, rock-solid, her character like granite from a quarry, and yet her heart is soft, gentle, overflowing with love for others, willing to ignore the pains caused her by so many, willing to embrace her fellow humans, do her part to spread love. Even though she was the student, back in the day, and I the teacher, I sensed, even then, that she would be a friend of mine when her spring became her summer, when my summer became my fall. I gravitated to her then, I gravitate to her now, a kindred spirit, a wanderer in search of the mysteries, and answers to those mysteries, scars showing, the scars of living, the scars of interaction with others, a frailty just beneath the armor, and despite the many wounds, a willingness to try again, to once again open the heart and allow others inside.
The Dogs Know
They always do. I’ll never understand how they do, but they do. With people they trust they are instantly at ease, and so it was with Misha. They sniffed, they accepted the backrubs, and then they laid down, content in their knowledge that a friend was among us, a friend who could be trusted, a friend their owner cared about. They allowed us our conversation, no interruptions, no further need to be the wheel’s hub. And I have no doubt if many years passed, and Misha was to appear again, they would instantly embrace her, for dogs do know.
The time went much too quickly. She had to drive to Seattle, help her brother, the whole point of the roadtrip, Spokane to Seattle, five-hours of driving, to help when needed. But before she went to her brother’s home, literally a straight shot on I-90, Spokane to Seattle, she detoured, easily adding another two hours to her journey, one hour to Olympia, one hour north to Seattle, to see an old teacher of hers, to join him on a short walk with his dogs, to catch up and to bask in the warmth only true friendship can provide.
I was touched then. I am still touched today.
I don’t have the words. It is a remarkable gift, teaching. It never stops giving. If you are a teacher, the profession continues well-past retirement. Students you cared about, back in the day, become adults you care about now. And, despite their busy lives, their children and their jobs and their spouses, despite the constant struggles of adulthood, the creditors and demands and concerns, a handful of them remember their old teachers, and if you are truly lucky, if the gods are smiling upon you, if the stars perfectly align, a few of them will reconnect, stop by, catch up, and confirm that teaching just might be the best damned profession of them all.
We hugged when it was time for her to leave. We hugged hard, perhaps hoping to trap the feelings of friendship and comradeship and caring inside of us by sheer strength. Perhaps we senses it might be a long time until the next visit, if at all. My beautiful student sat down in her car, looked back at me, and held her hand to her heart as she looked at me. I did the same.
No further words were needed.
I had been there when she needed me, the shy, confused, frightened, lonely 7th grader, looking for an adult who understood, an adult who only wanted her to discover her best. And she was there for me, many years later, an old man needing the connection with the past, needing a reminder that his life had meaning, that what he did counted in the cosmic pattern of life.
Thanks for Joining Us
This walk wasn’t so much about the dogs as it was about life, friendship, and love. I hope you didn’t mind. I promise to bombard you with doggie love next time we meet.
You can find us most every day, me and my two dogs, where the pavement ends and the wonders begin. Join us! We would love to get to know you better. Just be prepared for a lick of the face, from the dogs, not me.
2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)