I went walking in the local park this morning, as I do every morning and evening, but this morning was different.
I take my two dogs: Rocket and Luna. The walk is good and provides exercise for all three of us. I count the steps I walk each day, or at least the pedometer step counter app on my phone does the counting. My goal is to walk 11 000 steps a day.
The usual suspects
I met up with the few usual suspects – Billy, Stephanie and Sarah with their dogs. We walked around the park several times. After the second time, Billy peeled off to go about his daily business of being retired and moving house.
After the third round, Stephanie began to leave, but we stopped and chatted a bit about her dad’s battle in coming to terms with retirement. I made a couple of suggestions that made me realise that I know more about retirement than many people. I must pursue this thought.
After Stephanie left, I carried on walking, determined to hit 6 000 steps before heading home (this leaves 2 000 during the day and 3 000 in the evening).
Sitting in the shade
As I walked I saw a woman sitting quietly on a bench in the shade a little further up the park. I paid little attention and carried on with my walk around the park. When I had circled the park she was still there.
I felt drawn to this stranger. I walked up the hill and approached her. “Are you OK,” I asked? She hesitated, then blurted out that she had lost her womb and her ovaries, was recovering from chemotherapy and was divorced. All crowded into a single sentence!
I asked if I might sit down. She moved a little to one side of the bench. I sat. She held out a skinny hand. “I am Rushdiya,” she said. I told her my name. She was a slim, attractive Muslim woman on her mid-40s.
Speaking in torrent
She started speaking in a sort of quiet torrent. About her cancer and how hard it had been combining chemo and looking after her children. How she did not feel attractive any more. About how much she missed (and needed) her “passed” mother’s hugs. That she was divorced but had a boyfriend who did not respect her and did not understand her needs. She was in the park to think about whether to stay with him or leave. He had said he would join her in the park.
The whole exchange lasted for perhaps 10 minutes. I only spoke a few words. She spoke many. Then she started to look apprehensive (about her boyfriend arriving?). I said I needed to continue my walk, and left her with the question, would “you be better off leaving him, or staying with him”?
The last time
The last time I saw her, she was sitting on the far end of the bench. A large man was sitting at the other end. Sitting on the back of the bench, above her.
I think I may have helped her, just by being there, and listening. I hope so. So unlike me. Typically I would have walked right on by.
Then, I sat on a distant bench and listened to my usual 10 minutes “Headspace” app-guided meditation, and then drove home. As I drove I marvelled at the extent of human contact that can be achieved in such a short interaction with a total stranger.