This story is about a man who my husband respectfully referred to as “Wilderness Man.” He would walk his dog in the park around the same early hours of the morning that we walked our late-dog, Penny.
The Wilderness Man received his nickname due to his burly stature and the survivalist style of clothing that he wears. His avoidant nature, giving us reason to believe he was not comfortable around many people, also added to this persona.
While on our walks, we would typically hear Wilderness Man’s hound dog baying before we saw him, as the dog barked all around the park. Clearly, the pup did not share its owner’s social anxiety for he made his presence well known.
However, as soon as Wilderness Man would see us coming towards him, he would dart off the trail, and quickly pull his dog deep into the woods. Sometimes the area he would go in would be thick brush, and I wanted to say to him, “Oh, please, you don’t have to do that!” But there was never the opportunity because he was that fast.
Each time I would wave at him and say “hello”, however he would just turn his head and look away. It was obvious that he was uncomfortable with the interaction.
Then one day, it all changed.
Shortly after Penny passed away, I was walking on the trail alone, filled with grief and sadness. When I came around the corner, I almost bumped into Wilderness Man who was walking with his unusually silent dog.
We both startled, but there was no time for him to flee into the woods. His dog started barking like crazy, and I put out my hand and asked if I could pet him.
Wilderness Man pulled his pup back and turned to walk away from me, ignoring my request. But when I said, “My dog recently passed away and I miss her so much. I would really love to pet your dog,” he abruptly stopped and turned towards me.
He then looked at me kindly, and said, “Sure. Don’t be scared of his bark. He is very friendly and loves people.” And it was true. The dog was very sweet and appeared thrilled to receive some attention from me.
On the days that followed, whenever I saw Wilderness Man and his dog, he stopped and let us say, “hi.”
Then, a few months later, Wilderness Man and I spotted each other from the opposite far ends of the trail. In a move that surprised me, he went back to his old habit and darted into the woods, pulling his dog along with him. I felt rather sad about that, wondering the reason for the change.
However, a few minutes later, I was more pleasantly surprised when he hopped back onto the trail again.
As we approached each other, he said, “He wanted to go into the woods (referring to his dog), but I said to him, ‘Hey, there’s your friend. Don’t you want to see her?’.”
Wilderness Man then flashed me a friendly smile and motioned for me to pet his dog.
I’ll tell you, my heart felt like it was going to burst open. This was true, authentic compassion. Clearly this man struggled with painful social anxiety, yet he was willing to override his uncomfortable feelings to comfort me!
What a beautiful human being!
I decided to share this story with you because it felt so meaningful to me. Unexpected kindness and connection with a “stranger” created a very spiritual experience that filled my heart with joy.
No matter your circumstances, I encourage you to open yourself up to the love that is all around you. Look for connection in every interaction. Let it in.
PS – I’m not sharing the dog’s name in this story for confidentiality reasons, but I was formerly introduced to him during our first interaction. However, Wilderness Man has not yet shared his own name with me. I don’t refer to him as Wilderness Man anymore though. Now, I just call him “friend”.