“Is that a sheep-a-doodle?”
The question came from an older gentleman, kindness behind his eyes.
In past seasons of life, had I been asked such a question, it wouldn’t have remained with me a moment, much less three days. But here I am 72-hours later writing a column about it.
You see, I find it hard to pray sitting still. My mind wanders to everything under the sun – from food to my calendar to that text I didn’t respond to. I cannot focus. But I have discovered that if I walk, I can pray. If I immerse myself in the great outdoors and hear the sing-song birds and look up at the sky in its on-and-on-ness, I feel my own smallness. I can connect with my Creator, the One who is bigger than I, and who can therefore handle all the things I need to pray about. Also, I can’t help but talk to him about all of his creativity when I’m swimming around in it on a morning walk.
This particular morning, though, I was undone inside by some things in life that seemed big. Really big. And really out of my control—which is the worst, as we all know! Feeling in control is delicious and feeling out of control is distressing.
This particular morning—the one 72-hours ago—I was walking with our Bernedoodle, Rookie, who was trying to rip my shoulder out of its socket with every squirrel he spotted. Even still, he’s a decent walking companion. He allows me to talk to God by not interrupting and he keeps me present by drinking from muddy puddles. (Incidentally I’ve been wondering… is it ok for dogs to drink from muddy puddles? I know without a doubt my grandfather would laugh at such a question, but alas, I’m not sure. Let me know if you know.)
My heart was overwhelmed within me by all of this stuff. In the moment I was keenly aware that life felt so much like the sprint triathlon I once attempted:
I had trained for the swim at the Kroc Center pool using the breaststroke. Swim lessons were not part of my childhood. We didn’t even know anyone with an in-ground pool when I was growing up. So I was banking on the relative ease of the breaststroke to get me through the 1/3-mile swim, but the waves lapped up all around my face (there were no waves at the Kroc) and the feet in front of me and the arms next to me kicked and slapped all around (there were polite lanes at the Kroc). One-third of a mile is short, but I had to call the life boat three times and eventually ended up backstroking the last part of the swim, looking to the position of the sun to guide me toward the finish line. Those were 30 of the worst minutes of my life.
My Saturday morning walk felt a lot like that. Multiple life situations were lapping and slapping and kicking all around me. I felt like I was treading water, but having to dip under for a break far too often. The praying was a call for the life boat. Again.
Even with Rookie darting and chasing and leaving his mark on things, I slipped deep into my own thoughts, giving into the stress. We passed people and dogs, cycling groups and strollers, joggers and walkers. I passed the older gentleman once. I saw him coming from the opposite direction but we didn’t speak. Sometimes I do speak and sometimes I don’t. There’s no rhyme or reason, really. I should always speak, I suppose—being Southern and all—but sometimes I just don’t.
The next block, here he comes again.
We had already gone through the not-speaking thing once. What now? Then, with all that kindness in his voice, he asked in the most casual and genuinely curious way,
“Is that a sheep-a-doodle?”
His words melted over my stress like a salve. A friendly soul, indeed, in a world that feels exceedingly unfriendly these days. He and I might disagree about everything—religion, politics, gender issues, the beach or the mountains, Leave it to Beaver or I Love Lucy, coffee or tea, doodle or some other breed. The topics that we don’t see eye-to-eye on could be endless, but in that moment he reached out and we had a 20-second conversation about dogs that felt like peace. It wasn’t deep peace with God, or world peace, or even the peace I was looking for in all of my situations – but it was a peaceful word spoken in a time where discord sits in the air like gas, just waiting for someone to innocently strike a match.
I came home and told Jim about it and he mentioned a similar exchange that caught his attention. It was about nothing, but it was one human reaching out to another to say, “We are still people put in this life at the same unsettling time. Might as well say hi and be nice for a minute. Maybe it’ll help.”
And it did.
Historically, those exchanges have meant next to nothing to me. In the South, conversations like that are a-dime-a-dozen. But that one—in this season—was priceless.
“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.”*
Especially a kind word about doodles.
StoryBoard features “The Yellow Chair ChronEchols” by writer Candace Echols. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine. Candace is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair.