Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.
A week ago I had an altercation with a runner in the park, who read me the proverbial riot act for having my dog off-leash. Nothing had happened, but a friend and neighbor of his had recently had a dog lunge at her when she was running, and she overcompensated, suffering serious injury. Later I reasoned his anger may have been displaced from that other, perhaps careless, dog owner. It couldn’t possibly be intended for me—innocent little me—could it?
But I was stunned, and it was hard to let go of his anger. Simply raising your voice at someone causes shame to kick in, according to studies. I felt like what my dog produces on her walks. All the more so, because I thought the runner’s obvious change of course to come over to me and my dog was a friendly gesture to say hello and perhaps pet her. Even my dog looked guilty!
All I could think to say was that I, too, was a runner, so I understood the concern. What I wished I had added is that I always keep my dog—on or off-leash—away from people, let alone runners, because you never know when people might be afraid of dogs. I had made an exception in this runner’s case, because, as I said, I thought his motives were friendly. My own big fear running past dogs is that I might trip on one or the owner’s leash. And my experience is that a leashed dog is more likely to lunge, because it is defending the one holding onto the leash.
In recent years, during morning prayers, I adopted a policy of praying first for those people with whom I was having difficulty. This was a particularly good practice during my three interim pastorates! My reason is three-fold. First, just to get it over with! Second, to change my attitudes toward the individual, like a Buddhist lovingkindness exercise. And third, for them—whatever bears were in their caves, however I might have set them off, inadvertently or intentionally.
So, the morning after the incident, I prayed first for this runner. Rarely do I have immediate gratification when praying, other than the satisfaction of prayer itself. But on the walk with my dog that followed, in the opposite direction from the park, we found yesterday’s runner doing yard work!
“Aren’t you the fellow who came up to me yesterday?” I asked, somewhat rhetorically. I immediately sensed he felt he had come on a little strong the day before. And we talked in a reconciling way. We still disagreed, but he took off a work glove and extended his hand, introducing himself. He explained why he had expressed himself so passionately—again, his injured neighbor whose ankle was swollen. And I had the opportunity to explain how I normally steer my dog clear of people unless they want to come close.
The serendipitous nature of a second, friendly encounter after our first hostile one just seemed too much of a coincidence—especially directly after my prayer. It felt more like what Jung called “synchronicity,” what the Bible calls miracle, and what we might call grace. Inwardly I thanked God as my dog and I moved on.
Please consider registering now for a retreat I am co-leading November 10-13, "Gratitude in Three Movements: Forgiveness, Acceptance, and Thanksgiving." Find out more at www.kirkridge.org.