The first time it happened, I was not prepared. The sun was shining, and I had a spring in my step as I headed outside for my walk. Two blocks down I heard, “Oh, howdy neighbor,” as I ran smack dab into John.
On our first meeting I learned John was a retired college professor, married to a woman whose mother was ill, the mother lived in Poland, and he knew three languages.
He was going home after his walk but decided to walk with me for a while, just to chat.
“Won’t you be going the wrong way?” I smiled.
“Oh, I don’t mind, I’ll walk with you at least to the next street. What did you say your name was?”
“Nancy,” I said. “I live on the corner, there.”
“I know,” he said, and we walked together to the next street.
John, bless his heart, is in his late seventies. He uses a cane to support his stooped frame but is surprisingly agile as he sprints across the street to see me. Most days he has on a faded baseball cap, PBS t-shirt, and plaid pajama pants with tennis shoes. He sports a dashing mustache and has twinkling blue eyes that light up when he smiles, and he’s always smiling.
Because John often needs to stop and catch his breath, I slow down and just wait while he rests and entertains me with his steady stream of stories from the past.
Lest you think I am sweet for listening, I have been known to look out my front door and scan the streets before starting to walk. I selfishly want to be alone with my thoughts or Spotify favorites, and walk at a faster pace. But, on many occasions when I thought the coast was clear, he will come out of nowhere and POOF, I’ll hear him calling my name.
Once I left the house, calling to Boo, “I’m going to get the mail. Be right back.”
It takes me fifteen minutes to walk up the street and back to our community mailboxes. Forty-five minutes later when I returned; Boo was standing in the kitchen,
“He’s a walker stalker!” Boo laughed.
John will start talking fifty feet before he gets to me, and ever the gentleman he says, “I see you’re going for your walk. Do you mind if I join you?”
Another time I lied, “Sorry, John, I’m trying to get a short walk in before I have to go to a doctor’s appointment.”
But he said, “Me too, which doctor are you going to? I’ll just walk with you to the next street.”
John asks me questions about myself, too. He now knows my husband’s name, how long I worked in education, how many children we have and how long we’ve lived in our house.
Boo was mowing the front yard one day, when I suddenly heard the mower stop. I figured he was emptying the clippings, but when the mower never started back up, I opened the door to check. One foot out the door and I saw John, leaning on his cane, chatting up a storm with Boo. I quickly and quietly shut the door and hid. Some time later the mower sputtered back up and soon Boo came in calling, “John says hello. Did you know he was a college professor?”
Last year with the Pandemic and all, John would always stay a respectable distance while we walked, asking if I was comfortable about the six-foot rule. But now I know John is vaccinated, his wife is visiting her mother, he married late in life at fifty-three, he has sciatica and he had lunch with two friends yesterday. Things are getting back to normal.
When I’m walking with John, he smiles and greets everyone on our path. He knows most of them by name and can tell me something interesting about each one. He’s amazing. His seventy-plus-year-old mind is as sharp as ever. When I stop to think about it, John has been the highlight of my shelter in place, stay at home days. He’s upbeat, never feels sorry for himself, and although he has to stop now and again to rest, he’s out there doing his thing.
As much as I selfishly want to walk faster some days, I know there will come a time when I miss seeing John and hearing about his life. Perhaps divine providence brought me John to slow me down and refine my patience. He certainly has brought me company along my walks and a smile on those lonely COVID days. It’s hard to believe that someday I may be out walking the neighborhood, looking for friendship and a listening ear. I hope you’ll slow down and walk with me, at least to the next street.