Kira pauses her timer and stops “Hi Dennis” she says with a big smile. I pop my head up from writing and respond with a friendly wave. She’s been sober since 2016 — has the date tattooed on her arm. She pushes a stroller as she runs. Baby Jack is a much better reason for living than the party life she left six years ago. Along comes Peter. “Hey Coach,” he says. His kids are part of the hockey program I run in the winter. He’s been reading all about the value of psychedelic drugs. He stops his run for a couple of minutes to fill me in on what the latest research says about the benefits of magic mushrooms before he dashes for home. The black lab, Sunday, finds me next. He’s the strong silent type. He leans in for a pet as I pick off an eye crusty. “He gets those a lot,” his owner says sheepishly. “Me too!” I say with a laugh. Nicole, Sunday’s owner, tells me that she is an occupational therapist. “Oh, I know a bunch of O.T’s,” I tell her, “they are always trying to help the men in my building.” The conversation moves into a head-scratching session on how we can fix the problem of the DTES. Neither of us has any answers, only that current strategies are not working.
Next rolling by is Deborah followed by Paul. They are on their bikes one headed for work at a nearby international school the other coming back from his laps around Stanley Park. They don’t have time to stop, but as always I hear “morning Dennis” as they zoom by. Meanwhile, Rachel the accountant comes sauntering up. She never seems to be in a hurry. I think she cherishes her morning walk to work. Her soft, disarming almost squeaky voice and her huge smile brighten even the darkest of days.
Following Rachel come Tim and Sandra. Hand in hand they walk the Cambie loop each morning. They stride with pace but they always stop to see how I am doing. I’ve learned that they are a praying couple. They use their morning power walk to petition the all-mighty and quote Bible verses they’ve learned over the years. These two are about as nice as you can get
I glance up from my writing and spy a couple labouring down the path some distance away. I can tell by the limp that it’s Russ and Isabelle. They’ve been married for over 50 years. Russ tells me that religion is a tool for the powerful and a crutch for the weak. Isabel slaps him on the shoulder for such open negativity! Russ’s limp has gotten worse over the last couple of years. Finally, the pain broke down his stubbornness and forced him to sign up for a knee replacement. He goes under the knife in a couple of weeks. I can tell the old skeptic is a little nervous and I’ve done my best to calm his fears by letting him know how wildly successful my own hip replacement surgery was a few years ago.
Cooper comes bounding up. His owner Dan is tugging on the leash with both hands. He is a skinny and skittish dog rescued from some foreign country, but Cooper knows me now, I’m one of his people, and he is always super excited to see me. He does a quick sniff all around just to make sure everything smells right then he plops himself down on my feet refusing to move. Speaking of Dogs there is Poncho. A short very rude dog who comes from Mexico. This supremely confident pooch who is much smaller than he knows struts by like a canine version of Napoleon. He has been ignoring me for years. “Poncho” I call out in vain as he marks his territory and walks on without even the slightest acknowledgement of my existence. Mark and Natalie apologize every morning for their socially stunted dog.
It’s time for Stewart and Bailey. Bailey is a hyperactive Boston Terrier. From 30 yards he sees me. Stewart drops the leash and the sprint is on! He doesn’t even break stride as he approaches my bench, I have only a second or two to secure my coffee mug, pen, journal and computer before impact. Bailey leaps up, a furious ball of happy fur is dancing on my lap covering me in kisses. Stewart used to live in the DTES where I work. His life was an absolute train-wreck he tells me, but God delivered him from his losing battle with drugs and alcohol. He has a good job with the city now and a nice place to live. He tells me about his cousin who remains homeless and trapped in addiction. Perhaps one day, he muses, I might find him and give him housing in my building. Katie, Nicole’s friend walks by, She’s a country singer that goes by the name of Parker Graye. She is racking up a lot of frequent flyer miles between here and Nashville hoping to make it big someday. I’ve watched her on YouTube — she’s very good! Whenever she’s in town she gives me a little update on her career. I cheer her on from the bench.
On this morning, I receive another 25 or 30 head nods and “hello’s” from people whose names and stories I have not yet learned. It’s now impossible for me to go to the bench if I want purely quiet solitude for writing. But I don’t begrudge the loss of the quiet time. It’s now quiet time punctuated by beautiful life-giving moments of human interaction. I love it.
What happened? About four years ago, I put myself out there on a sea wall bench and the wonderful people of Vancouver, and their pets found me!