If you’re a regular reader here, it probably wouldn’t surprise you if this turned out to be another column about Lola, the world’s most perfect dog (my column, my rules). But it’s not. Sure, she plays a starring role (only appropriate for such a perfect animal, obviously) but, still, it’s not about her. This column is actually about a person, someone I see often but who I do not know. And since seeing someone is, of course, not the same thing as knowing someone, I think it’s accurate to call her a stranger. With that in mind then, let’s call this a column about strangers and other animals.
We see her two or three times a week, sometimes more, on our morning walks around the neighborhood. She is elderly, I suspect in her nineties, and she’s tiny, maybe five feet tall, thin as the dry grass outside her home, her back so bent forward that looking up and away from her feet is an obvious effort. She carries a dark wooden cane to help keep her balance as she walks, so slowly, a few yards from her front door. And then back. I don’t believe she speaks any English other than her barely whispered “hello.” A few words of Yiddish is as bilingual as I get, useless in this case, so conversation is impossible. That hello is always accompanied by a few fingers waving and a big smile. These days, of course, a mask hides that smile but her eyes still give it away. Oh, and to be clear, that greeting is for Lola.
Lola adores her. At nine pounds she’s too little to pull me but I follow the tug on her six-foot leash, getting as close as we’re supposed to get to people outside our bubbles. Lola says her happy woo-woo of “hi there, it’s me!”, stretching her front feet up on her friend. The little dog reaches up and the little lady reaches down, ruffling Lola’s curls with her fingertips. It lasts but a moment. The masked smile, a laugh, an unanswered play bow, and then we head off to finish our walk. It’s important to warmly greet even strangers, more than ever during this time of isolation.