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Strangers In Seattle

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         Strangers in Seattle
……..P

By Ed Heckard

6/7/20

In my mid-thirties, I moved to Seattle in search of a career opportunity in the newspaper industry. I was working part-time for a friend and residing about a mile from Green Lake Park. In the afternoons I often jogged at the park. I was training for the upcoming Trail’s End Marathon in Seaside, Oregon.

On this beautiful mid-week April afternoon, I planned on jogging to Green Lake and doing four laps on the 2.8 miles of paved path circling the park’s lake.

I had almost reached the park’s path when two men suddenly approached me from a nearby bench. The man nearer me reached out his arm, beckoning me to stop.

He asked quickly, “Young man, would you be able to assist us?”

The sudden intrusion caught me off guard, however at first glance, the guy seemed harmless enough. He was probably in his early 60’s, heavy set, pleasant looking and conservatively dressed in a short-sleeved shirt, slacks and street shoes. His partner, maybe 45-50, had an athletic build and was wearing jogging attire.

My defense mechanisms had already switched from warm to red alert. There was never a day when ‘assisting strangers’ appeared on my to-do list. Nevertheless, I decided to take a moment to feign interest prior to bidding these two hucksters a quick adieu.

“What is it?” I snapped while taking a step back.

“Are you going to jog around the lake?” he asked.

“Yes”, I responded rather gruffly.

He then quickly took hold of his partner’s arm and brought him closer to me while asking, “Would you mind if my friend jogged along with you?” This encounter had taken maybe 10 seconds. Why then had this innocuous request not only intimidated me, but put me in full-flight mode?

“What do you mean, jog with me?” I asked cautiously.

“My friend likes to jog around the lake, but he needs someone’s help in order to do it,” he responded.

“Why is that?” I shot back.

“He’s blind,” came his calm reply.

You have got to be kidding me. While jogging, you want me to guide this man all around that lake? It was a gorgeous, warm afternoon. The paved walking path was teeming with people. Many were walking or jogging with leashed dogs, some were pushing baby carriages, a few were on skates or skateboards.

At this point there was only one thing I knew for certain. None of these people cared one iota about my current predicament.

However, taking a deep breath, I figured it might not kill me to delve a little deeper into this situation.

Turning my attention to his friend, I inquired, “You want to go jogging?”

He cheerfully replied, “I do. Will you give me a hand?”

Hesitantly I said, “I guess so, but I don’t see how this can work.”

He smiled saying, “Oh, it’s quite simple. I have a cord that attaches to our wrist.” With that he showed me a rubber cord he was carrying. The cord was about 3/8” in diameter with loops at both ends. Each loop was just big enough to put a hand through. The cord’s length, including the two loops, couldn’t have been 16”.

In a brief introduction I learned the younger man’s name was Gary. He then brought my attention back to the rubber cord he was holding. He asked which of my wrists I preferred the cord be attached. Giving his question a moment’s thought, since I was right-handed, it might be better to have the cord on my right wrist.

He handed me one end of the cord and I slipped the loop over my hand and onto my wrist. He attached the remaining loop over his left hand and onto his wrist. We were tethered. Gary was ready to hit the path…I was not. At that moment, I could not recall when I had last spoken to a blind person, let alone jogged three miles fastened to one.

I felt a sense of foreboding. Stalling, I asked Gary, “What pace would you like to go?”

He quickly said, “Doesn’t matter. Whatever pace you choose should be fine.”

After a couple more frivolous questions, I figured we might as well get this herky-jerky show on the road.

We walked 10 yards and when we reached the paved path began slowly jogging. The first few strides went better than expected. I anticipated giving a play by play of what was happening, but giving a glance to my right, I was relieved to find Gary did not appear concerned about anything. Whereas I was uptight about our precarious venture, he appeared confident and relaxed.

At 100 yards I was surprised we were jogging along rather smoothly. Gradually I picked up the pace and again we were stride for stride. If I had not been so self-conscious, I may have forgotten we were tethered.

Within a half-mile I realized this was not Gary’s first rodeo. This man was an extremely gifted athlete. Not once had the short cord tightened as he stayed about 8” from my right wrist and 3” to 4” behind me.

Five minutes into our jog I lost any ambivalence I had about ‘guiding’ Gary. It was not guiding he required. It was as if I were his chauffeur. He was fearless, and from his demeanor, enjoying himself. We had begun chatting freely by now. I cannot recall specific topics discussed, although I do remember his saying he came to Green Lake often during the spring and summer. He said that usually someone they knew was available to jog with him.

Days like today, when they asked for assistance, were infrequent. We cruised around the lake. My only duty was keeping 3’ of open space on my right.

The 25-minute jog through and around the mass of humanity went without a hitch. While dropping Gary off with his friend, I commented on what a terrific experience the jog was for me. The duo smiled and thanked me for my time. With that, I turned back to the path to continue my workout.

It has been fast approaching 40 years since my jog with Gary. He inspired me in a way I could never have imagined. Little did I know, during one lap around that lake, a man with a disability could demonstrate how life should be lived.

 

*Previously published story, with modifications, in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ – ‘Running for Good’ – 2018

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