There is an old fellow I would see on my morning walks along the bike path. He was talk, lanky, with a handlebar mustache. He stooped slightly as a he walked. He always said good morning to me as we passed. He reminded me of the actor Sam Elliott. This old fellow walked slowly, carefully, and I was nearly always by himself as far as I could remember.
And then I didn’t see him any more.
At first, I didn’t think too much about this. I usually listen to a book while I walk, and depending on how absorbed I am in the book, I don’t notice much of my surroundings. Thinking about it, I don’t remember seeing much of him in the winter, and I suppose I thought he avoided the cold weather. Then I didn’t see him in the spring. He looked old to me, but I am a poor judge of age. In any case, I began to fear the worst.
Then this morning, to my great delight, there he was, walking past me in the opposite direction. We passed one another around the same spot that we always did, saying our good mornings. I probably had a bigger smile than I usually did. I felt a tremendous sense of relief, a letting go of tension that I didn’t realize I’d been holding on to. The old fellow was on the bike path again.
Walking every day is good exercise, I am told. I often think of exercise as physical and perhaps mental, but not emotional. And yet, I was delighted and relieved to see the old fellow on the bike path this morning. It probably did me more good than walking the bike has all week. I’m not sure why. As a creature of habit, I tend to follow the same path each morning, around roughly the same time. I see the same faces. I don’t know any names or backgrounds. But there is a familiarity there, a kind of camaraderie that comes from sharing the bike path at the same time each day.
Northern Virginia is not like small town Maine where everyone waves to everyone else, friend and stranger alike. But on the bike paths, things seem different. People smile as they pass. They say good morning. If they have dogs, the dogs stop to chat while they are out walking their owner. There is a sense of the familiar, even though there is no familiarity beyond passing by each morning.
The tension that built up when I didn’t see the old fellow on the bike path was a kind of hidden tension. I didn’t realize it was there until I saw him again and it left. It makes me wonder what other tensions lie hidden within. And what was it about not seeing the old fellow that created that tension in the first place?
Seeing the old guy this morning made me realize how important just seeing other people is to my morning walk. It is at least as important as the exercise I get from the walk. Even when all we do is pass by, smile, and perhaps, say good morning.