A strange thing happened the other day.
The kiddo and I were out taking the dogs for their afternoon walk. The dog walk can be kind of a struggle because the dogs often disagree about which direction they want to go, when they want to stop or start - there's a lot of wrangling.
We were making our way around the block when we encountered another dog-walker - a tall, gangly guy in his early 20's with a disaffected youth/Dungeons & Dragons vibe. I recognized him because he'd stopped me before to pat our bigger dog, Lucy. People on the street love Lucy. Anyway, he was walking two small dogs so our small dog and those dogs were sniffing each other and Lucy was semi-tolerating the pats of the young man and my son was announcing "I'm the Rolly Polly Bird!" because we'd just finished reading The Enormous Crocodile for the first time and, that's how my kid rolls - lots of reading lots of pretending.
"Does he always say that?" asked the young man.
"Just today. He's the Rolly Polly bird," I explained in case the guy hadn't fully understood. My son moved around Lucy to speak again to the man who was squatting down, giving Lucy his full attention.
"I'm the Rolly Polly Bird!"
"Get out of my face," said the man with a weird clenched-teeth grimace-cum-smile. Woah! I thought. And without waiting for my son or I to react, the man put his finger on my son's chest - my 28 pound, two-and-a-half year old's chest - and pushed him saying "Back off . . ."
"We're just going to say good-bye now" I chirped and I moved my son and dogs away as quickly as I could.
I felt like I'd just seen something really dark - something about this person that most people who walk past him or, say, serve him at the bagel store would never see. I feel like I've got a secret about this guy.
When my mom was in the hospital/rehab/hospice I was acutely aware of how UNaware we all are of the interior lives of all of the other people we walk around with here in this big city. At the time, I made extra efforts not to let my own stress/unhappiness negatively affect my citizenship. During that time, I think I was a much more compassionate person as I encountered others; if someone was brusque or stand-offish, I thought about what might be going on with them to motivate that instead of just deciding they were a rude or obnoxious person.
I'd stopped thinking this way - about the mystery of my fellow (wo)man - so actively and so often, but the run-in with this guy brought it back to the front of my mind, but with this added twist: we don't know what other people may be struggling with and that means compassion but also, maybe, keeping our guard up a bit. You never know . . .
What do you think? What's your outlook as you make your way through your day?