When our daughter was about three, she and my husband were in the checkout line at the local drugstore. A mean-looking lumberjack of a man was behind them. V turned around and looked up. “Hey!” She said, to the man’s attention. He glared down at the tiny girl. My husband was ready to swoop in to save her. Oblivious, V continued, “I’m wearing my party shoes!” The terrifying giant all but melted. “Oh, isn’t that nice,” he cooed, in the voice we all use when addressing a little person.

It’s the same high-pitched tone we use when greeting a dog.

There’s a woman in my neighborhood who runs a loop every day that takes her by my house three or four times each outing. I’ve lived here for seven years. Although I am not always outside when she jogs past, let’s assume that there have been many many opportunities for her to nod a hello, maybe even speak. I’ve smiled, nodded, and even spoken once or twice. She stoically lopes right by me, eyes forward, face set.

Then I saw her stop and speak to a neighbor. Well, not to the person but to his adorable French bulldog named Adam. “Adam, aren’t you nice!” She cooed, just like the lumberjack reacting to my daughter. Dogs and babies.

The runner has a husband who is, like me, sociably inclined. He walks by our house several times a week to use the neighborhood gym. Now and then, we’ll see each other, and he nods and adds a hello or a good morning. Sometimes, the runner walks with him, but does not react to me in kind. Odd couple, I’ve thought.

Years ago, when my father was posted to the American Embassy in Rome, my mother would pass a homeless man on her morning walk with the dog. “Buon giorno!” Good morning, she would say every day. The man would not respond. This went on for weeks. Then, my mother decided to call his bluff. She walked right by the man without saying a word. “Buon giorno, signora!” Good morning, ma’am! She heard him call after her.

Mom’s spirit inspired me this morning.

I was walking Kumba when the runner and her husband came down the sidewalk toward me. I pulled to the side to let them pass (social distancing). I said good morning, the man said good morning, the runner said nothing, and I added, “I don’t think you’ve met our rescue dog.”

Kumba

Well, that released a torrent of very pleasant conversation. While the husband just kind of stood there, the runner and I had (at an appropriate social distance) a nice chat about her dogs (who they walk in another part of the neighborhood) and dog rescue and dog trainers. I resisted the urge to count the words that I was finally having with this up-to-now-silent neighbor.

I still don’t know her name, but I didn’t need to become her friend. I just wanted to be seen.

Dogs make people human.

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