As most of you readers know, your kind narrator moved from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, CA earlier this year. Despite the California sunshine and gorgeous views, I miss a lot of my former life in D.C. and never quite adjusted to the cold fog that covers our summer months here in the Bay Area.
Though I’m happy to have created some distance from the long work hours with little effectual policy change, I do miss the people I connected with in our nation’s capital. In addition to my Washington, D.C. friends and colleagues who I think of and miss daily, I reflect equally as often and fondly on an older man who lives down the street from my house of four years in Mt. Pleasant. Strange thing is: I don’t know his name.
This older gentleman sports shoulder-length, questionably-washed silver hair and round, bookish glasses. He almost always wears worn, light denim jeans and Tevas with wool socks. I used to wonder if I liked the looks of him because he reminded me of home. He’s a dog owner, and would walk his three dogs around the block at a snails pace to accommodate one of the oldest, dirtiest terriers I’ve ever seen limp along. Sometimes my silver-haired friend would carry his coffee mug on these unhurried walks – not a to-go cup, but a thick, handmade-by-a-friend-given-as-a-gift mug. Other times, I’d see him chitchatting with neighbors while his dogs would stand patiently waiting at his side.
I’m guessing I saw this guy and his dogs nearly every other day, whether on my way to the Metro or walking home from the grocery store. As much as I was out and about in our neighborhood, he was, too. His unchanging outward appearances and habits helped me formulate a narrative of his life in my head. He was a retired architect, I reasoned, because of the round glasses. But his hands were thick and rough, which meant he spent his youth getting by on odd jobs, working with his hands. Most importantly, I had determined, he was the kind of man who was nice and good and patient with old dogs and hot summers.
About this time last year, when the leaves were finally changing and fall was bringing coolness to the air around us, I saw my neighbor at the church I sometimes attended down the street from our homes. Excited to see him somewhat out of context, I gave him my most earnest smile. He looked as if he had never seen me before and hadn’t the slightest clue who I was or why I was smiling at him.
I remember feeling the sting of disappointment that I wasn’t a memorable face to him like he was to me. But I also felt a sincere appreciation for how I could hold this person in my life with so much closeness—feel truly comforted by his routine and dependability in my life—and simultaneously keep him at arm’s length, never really talking to him or engaging at all beyond a few quiet “hello’s” as I stepped around his dogs on the sidewalk. It was a meaningful relationship for me that was completely unobtrusive, without need or time or work.
A wise friend told me recently that the comfort we seek is often available by observation of the world around us. He likened this quiet observation to a type of meditation, in that taking in your surroundings slows your mind and helps ground you in the present. I wouldn’t claim that watching an older dude walk his dog is any intense meditative work, but I like the idea of finding comfort where you can. And maybe it helps explain at least a little bit of the calmness I felt whenever I saw him around Mt. Pleasant.
As of yet in San Francisco, there is no older gentleman to watch walk his dogs each day. I’ve moved a few times within the city since arriving this spring and suppose I haven’t felt settled enough in one place to fully appreciate my neighbors’ comings and goings. Instead, I watch the trees sway in the wind and the fog roll in over the hills.