Happy New Year, Maximus
I went for a walk in the lagoon near our house yesterday with the kids and some friends and our dogs.
It was a gorgeous day. One of the few we have had this holiday season. It has been unseasonably rainy and chilly and very un-San Diego like over Christmas and the days that followed it and while I enjoyed the change of scenery (almost reminds me of living with the seasons…sort of), it was nice to feel the warm sun on our skin again. To see the blue water lapping away in the lagoon and the people in their short sleeves and bare legs, taking in the reason why we live here with each and every step.
We did our thing, letting the kids forge their own paths up and down embankments, always ten feet behind, lost in a world of childhood chit chat and make believe. The dogs behaved, walking confidently in stride, barely letting their puppy energy get the best of them. My girlfriend and I made small talk. About the holiday. About family matters. About the weather and the kids and the dogs….always talking about the dogs.
And then we met Maximus. Maximus was a little scruffy terrier. He was just intimidated enough by our duo of labs. Not shy enough to hide away, but not quite bold enough to say hello. Maximus was walking with a man and a woman, who was presumably his owner. And she is the reason for this post.
She was fairly nondescript at first glance. Slim, probably in her late 50s. Patagonia-style uniform from head to foot. Slightly unruly curly hair. Brown with flecks of auburn that shimmered in the sun. A pair of reading glasses that have obviously been well worn and loved through the years. A water bottle in one hand. I imagine she listens to NPR and has a “Feel the Bern” bumper sticker and a stack of Joan Didion books on her nightstand.
This woman lit up when she crossed our path. I mean, she lit up. It started with her smile. It was a mile-wide, big and open. Easy and natural. Her warm eyes crinkled with love. You could literally see the love in them come to life. She bent over to pet our dogs, giving them each a frisky rubdown, basking in their energy and their wagging tails. She spoke to them like she spoke to us. With so much enthusiasm and life. She commented on their coats, on their eyes. She commented on the weather and the trees. She told us that Max was named Maximus after the horse in “Tangled.” The kids had a laugh. She laughed along with them. A loud laugh, funny and free.
We spent maybe three minutes with this woman. This complete stranger who was just walking her little scruffy terrier Maximus down the same path by the same lagoon we walk by all the time.
Maybe three minutes.
She told our dogs it was time to go. Maximus needed his exercise. She smiled that smile at us. She smiled at our kids. She thanked us for stopping to talk in a way that felt sincere and heartfelt and true. And she and her companion and her little terrier went on their way.
And I stood there watching her go.
She was 20 feet away in a matter of seconds, but her smile remained right by my side. Her crinkled, warm eyes were still standing next to me. Her energy and her natural joy and her, for lack of a more underused term, aura…it wouldn’t leave.
My girlfriend noticed it, too. We both remarked on how we would love to have that kind of energy. Not in the physical sense. In another sense altogether. An energy that just emanated from her. One that felt pure and natural and real and truly…happy. To put it out into the world. To share it with others. How does one project that kind of ease, peace, absolute joy? Even with complete strangers? Has she always had it in her? Did it come with age? Was it Maximus? The sun shining? Her walking companion that day?
I didn’t catch that woman’s name. Only the dog’s. But moving into the new year, into a new season of change and transition and self-reflection…I will remember her. I will keep her smile and her eyes and energy in my memory. In my back pocket. In my mindset on sunny days.
Happy New Year, Maximus.