I saw her gait bending left ahead of me on the sidewalk, as if she were walking around an invisible obstacle. A thin older woman on an early-morning walk through downtown Manitou Springs. She wore a wide-brimmed hat. Her wobble brought her into my path.
I was running back from the Manitou Incline to Oscar Mike, my Jeep that waited near the free shuttle stop at the north edge of Memorial Park. I was almost there, given the miles I’d put behind me. Then, I heard her snap after me, “Did you say excuse me or get out of the way?!”
Almost to the point of pride, “I don’t need people.” My wife has wondered if I might one day quit society, go live in a cave or join a monastery.
She was ready to argue, ready to defend herself. I’d swayed left around her as she had lost her line in front of the Heart of Jerusalem Cafe. We were the only two beings on the sidewalk for the visible stretch. I’d said excuse me as I went around her.
Had this happened only weeks before, I most likely would have ignored her and kept running. I would have dismissed what I considered irrational, baiting behavior, and not engaged that volatility.
Timing Is Everything
Only two weeks since starting Humanitou, I was changing. An introvert who could and would talk as needed, I’ve never felt entirely socially at ease. My sense of humor often is dry. The art of small talk baffles me. I think too much, stay inward.
Historically, I have not sought social interaction for the sake of being social. I’ve not devoted time and energy to cultivating friendships. No one to go hiking or biking or fishing or coffee drinking with.
Almost to the point of pride, “I don’t need people.” My wife has wondered if I might one day quit society and go live in a cave or join a monastery, withdraw within.
But with Humanitou, I’ve purposefully chosen to engage in our community, to contribute, to know and be known. I’ve chosen to establish this blog as a public vehicle for human interaction and community involvement. The warmth and responsiveness I’ve received have been unexpected, amazing.
My attitude opened. And changes began.
Timing is everything.
Taking Time to Talk
I stopped running about 15 feet past the woman who’d challenged me to explain myself. I turned and looked at her. She had no fear. Not of this tall, much younger, big-bearded, tattooed man. She wanted an answer.
“I said excuse me,” I tell her.
“Well, alright then. I wasn’t sure.”
I turned back and ran five more steps — Wait. Not good enough. I stopped, turned and reengaged. Walking back toward her, as she continued walking my direction …
“Excuse me and get out of the way don’t sound the same,” I say. “And why would I be so rude to you?”
“I have a bad ear. And you’d be surprised what people say,” she says. “My ear causes me to walk unpredictably, so runners aren’t sure where I’m going to go. They yell at me to move and to get out of the way. It happens all the time. They just look at me as an old lady. You wait and see. You’ll get old.”
Conflict. Resolution. Change.
Again I broke form from my introverted, needs-no-human-connection version of me: I reached out and gently squeezed and patted her near shoulder, her left. It must have been eight inches closer to the ground than my own.
“Well, that’s not me. That’s not how I was raised, I guess. Not sure why others would treat you that way either. But I hear you. Sorry they do.”
Throughout our brief interaction, I reached out to her shoulder three times. She never flinched or withdrew or showed she noticed or cared.
We bid farewell niceties to each other. I ran on.
It was my birthday, one I’d kicked off with a personal record on the Incline and a run down the Barr Trail, down Ruxton Avenue, through downtown Manitou. More me-time lay ahead.
As I finished my run, curling around Memorial Park and past SunWater Spa toward Oscar Mike, I thought: What was that? The touchy, the feely, the humanness of reaching out to connect and resolve where I wouldn’t have in the past?
Don’t know. But it felt good.
I’m changing. I’m connecting.