On my morning route to daycare with the kids, I always pass a certain old man who walks up the subdivision hills like clockwork. I shouldn't say "walk." He strides. His pace is better than any walker I've seen. And the best part is, he waves at every passing car. His whole arm shoots up in the air and he grins a mile wide, never breaking his relentless stride.
His other arm is attached to a leash, on the end of which a beautiful golden retriever keeps pace with him up those hills, pink tongue lolling out of its mouth, eyes bright and enthusiastic.
The first time he waved to me, I was caught off guard. People don't wave to strangers. I ignored him. I thought he was a nut. The next day, I gave in and smiled at him. Then I started smiling and lifting two fingers from my steering wheel. Before I knew it, I was grinning and waving wildly at the man as if he were an old friend I hadn't seen in twenty years.
He went on smiling and waving through the seasons, every single morning, whether it was 100 degrees or the roads were frozen over with ice. He and his dog made their trek no matter what.
Until one day when he simply wasn't there.
It took me a few days to notice. Then suddenly I realized I hadn't seen him for a week or longer. Maybe he had walked earlier. Or later. But it didn't make sense that he would change the routine that he'd kept for over 2 years. I assumed the worst, and I hoped that this physically active, friendly little old man wasn't stooped over in a nursing home from a stroke or heart attack where no one would smile and wave to him in the mornings.
About six months later, I finally saw him again, back on his usual route, keeping his vigorous pace, waving at the passing cars.
I saw why he must have been gone.
His beautiful dog was no longer with him.