In the park there is a constant ebb and flow of people. People exercising. People circulating energies through the serene movement of Tai Chi – every morning at 10am in front of the bandstand should you wish to join. People cutting through. People detouring in order to exhange a street for a winding path flagged with luscious green grass beside the lake. People walking their dogs. People drinking. People playing. People being people.
Late this afternoon I was walking Winston. I was falling into the gentle mindful experience which I try to be present in each time we walk in the park. Part of this means I am aware of the people around me, but at the same time need to remain unattatched to what they’re doing around me. This is intrinsic to my growing and deepening mindfulness practice.
I noticed the air. It was cold but not bitter. It was not moist but it couldnt be described as damp. I felt thankful for my sheepskin gloves. The wind was insistent. The wind was neither aiding nor abetting my movement. The blustery rhythm however was not regular enough to excite a breathlessness within me – which happens with the right kind of wind. The sun was starting to say a slow Wintery goodbye. I felt grateful to have enjoyed the sunshine today – not commonplace for February in The Netherlands. The ground was hard beneath my feet. I noticed within my body the release of endorphins starting to mobilise. I noticed the half smile on my face.
I heard a voice behind my right shoulder and turned to face the man who had spoken.
It was a man of around 60, riding his bike, wearing a baseball cap which was frayed around the rim. His dark chocolate brown hair was greying but his smile was bright.
“Strong sturdy dog isn’t it, a bulldog? It’s back and behind is so strong, and round and perfect.”
Hoping that he wasn’t in fact talking about my behind in a vaguely disguised dog remark, I replied warmly that I loved Winston’s behind – and that Winston was a great dog. He proceeded to explain that he had a Jack Russell, and that he thought of her when he saw Winston’s behind because her back and behind were a little fragile. I said the appropriate dog owner to dog owner “Awwwwwww cute, shame about the fragility” and started to continue moving. He fell into my rhythm but on his bike, and went on to explain that she was his companion, that there was only him and her at home now – his wife had died just over a year ago.
He wakes up in the morning and rolls over and says “Good Morning” and he swears that she answers back – in her own doggy way. They have a routine together now. They wake up in the morning – he says “Good Morning” and she replies – then he lets her out into the garden so she can do her business. He cleans it up and then they can go back to bed for an hour or so.
He explains that his wife died of a brain tumour, and that before that she had been prone to lung infections. She had loved animals but because of her fragile health they had resorted to keeping a pair of canaries rather than any other animal. He laughs loudly and says “Imagine the chaos – two canaries flying around! We couldn’t keep them in a cage.” His laugh rings out and he smiles with a distant look in his eye and says “You know, she knew she was going to die. It was about eight months before she did that she started to insist that we got a dog, despite her ill health. So we got the Jack Russell…..I think she wanted to know that when she left, the dog would still be there. So that there would be someone there for me when I opened the door as I came home from work. And she is there. She’s there waiting for me behind the door.”
He refocused on me, and we shared a blurry moment. I can’t speak for him but I noticed my heart was full of love, and worried that it may brim over through the tear ducts in my eyes.
I rubbed his arm and said something simple about the beauty of the companionship of dogs. Then we smoothed over the raw emotion by sharing a moment passionately enthusing over the efficacy of sheepskin gloves in keeping your hands warmer than any other glove, and for the second time in the space of twenty minutes I felt thankful for my sheepskin gloves.
And we parted.
As I walked away I marvelled again at the way love never dies. How it lives on in our minds, in our dogs, in our sheepskin glove warmed hands, in our shared windy moments in the park, in our hearts, in our souls.
I hope that his beautiful wife rests peacefully, and looks in every now and again on Ricardo and his Jack Russell with her fragile back and behind.