Leaving an Impression
At 8:30 every morning he ambled past my window always wearing the same outfit -navy blue shorts, pockets bulging with dog treats, a white golf shirt, white sneakers with long white socks, a white baseball cap and oversized sunglasses. He was well-known throughout the neighborhood as "the guy with the dog biscuits" or "the guy who picked up the newspapers" or "the guy who carried in the trash-cans."
He made an impression on us because he always wore a big smile and he knew everybody by first name. He always had a kind word or comment whenever he saw you. When the garbage men left the trash cans and lids in the middle of the street he picked up each one and walked it to the garage door. When the newspapers were tossed onto the driveways he'd pick them up and place them at the door. If you went for a walk and there were no newspapers in anyone's driveway you knew he'd already gone by. He knew who was traveling, who was ill, or who was visiting. He inquired if there was a strange car in your driveway for more days than it should have been. Yet, his "knowing" was never intrusive. Rather, it was a gentle caring about his neighbors and a genuine interest in all the people he met on his daily walks.
But his most special affection was for all the dogs in our housing community. He knew every dog by name and they knew him. Dogs who never wanted to be petted by other than their owners would wait patiently or plant themselves on the sidewalk waiting for him to bring their doggie treats. My own dog would sit at his street corner waiting for him in the morning. When she had to be put on a special diet, he purchased the biscuits the vet required for her.
Their daily ritual continued for several years until the day she died. On that day she was too weary to get up. But somehow her instincts told her he was coming down the street. She went to the door to be let out. In a final burst of energy she hurrieddown the walkway to see him and in retrospect, to say goodbye. She died a few hours after that. When he learned of her death he cried with us sharing the grief.
I knew him by his daily walks, his kind acts, and his love of the neighborhood dogs. I knew he served the housing association through volunteer groups. I knew he was a veteran, but based on his youthful appearance assumed he served in Korea or Viet Nam. I knew his wife and knew he had an adult daughter.
At 8:30 on a recent Wednesday morning he was walking ahead of me as I was riding my bike along the paved trails in our subdivision. I yelled out "Good morning, Robbie!" so as not to startle him. He stopped and waved as I pedaled past him. It was the last time I saw him alive. Thirty minutes later he was pronounced dead by paramedics after suffering a massive heart attack in the community clubhouse where he'd gone to lift weights.
Looking back on the five years that our lives intersected I thought about all the times we'd spent talking about dogs and I asked myself, why I never asked him about his life. In his passing I learned so much about him. He was not in his early 70's as I'd assumed but rather was 84 years old. He was about to celebrate his 63rdwedding anniversary. He was a gifted musician playing the piano and organ. He traveled all over the world, living in many countries demanded of his job in the oil industry. There he made long-lasting friends as easily as he had done in our neighborhood. He'd made such an impression that letters from those friends still living in far-off lands filled the church's condolences box.
But what stood out the most was how he befriended young people, encouraging them to be better than they were, to take responsibility, to go to college and to become good people. One young woman who followed his explicit guidance, a budding operatic marvel, sang his funeral service. A young man that he befriended 25 years earlier wrote a touching tribute about him and how much he owed to Robbie's counseling.
It's said no one knows the day or the hour of our death. That's probably a good thing because it allows us to wake up greeting each day as a new beginning and giving us a fresh slate to write upon. Robbie's passing did that for me. I realized that this seemingly quiet man had actually left a huge impression on everyone he'd encountered during his lifetime. He didn't have a big pulpit to preach from, nor did he have a cause with a following. He simply cared about everyone he met and treated them kindly. And that can be contagious.
Robbie's death has caused me to think about my life and how I conduct myself andto make some small changes. Now, I slow down on those bike rides, stopping to inquire about a neighbor's well-being, or to ask the questions like "Where do you call home?" "Do you have a family?" "How are you feeling today?" And yes, even sometimes I take a few moments to pick up the trash cans.
I miss Robbie's physical presence as much as the dogs do. Sometimes I glance up from my computer and I catch a glimpse of him in his navy blue shorts and white baseball cap, his pockets bulging with dog treats as he ambles past my window. I know I'm seeing the impression he left on the streets of this retirement community just like the one he left in so many hearts. His daily routine created such an impression in people's lives that they remembered him by his random acts of kindness. His was a life well-lived. Is there a better legacy to leave in this world than to know you touched lives this way?
SIDE NOTE: Two days ago while working in the garage with the door open I felt the unmistakable presence of Robbie ambling down the street. The feeling was so powerful I turned around to look for him. I was convinced he was standing in the driveway saying "Good morning, Jo." Of course, he was not. But his impression surely was as he continues to walk the neighborhood!
Jo Mooy - September, 2011