Skirting Thoughts

On Friday I was walking home from work and had an awkward encounter that was really only remarkable in its triviality.  I suspect most of us have these: those moments when we aren’t quite sure what to do and find that uncertainty magnified by the pettiness, or petite-ness of the event.  Mine was extraordinarily ordinary.


I came upon an elderly couple walking toward me, taking up the bulk of the sidewalk.  In these sorts of situations I generally step to my right and nod as we cross paths.  This wasn’t going to work.  I could tell by their pace and mine that I would meet them precisely at that point where a giant elm tree and its root pressed up against the sidewalk.  I had a choice: I could sprint to beat them past the narrows of the walkway; I could slow down, or stop, and let them by; or I could skirt around the right side of the tree and pass them unawares.  I opted for the latter.  I’m not certain why; it meant that there would be no opportunity for niceties and perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for even a simple nod.  At any rate, I slipped behind the tree, and was surprised to discover that they weren’t past the tree as I passed them.  They were just in front of the tree (coming from their direction).  I returned to the sidewalk, and noticed out of the corner of my eye – as I forged forward – the gentleman bending down.  He was picking up a beer can that lay beside the walk: it was a Laker (a local brew) most famous for the tag line ‘Mak’er a Laker.”


I was well passed them before the event floated from my eyes to my mind.  I began to wonder: was he doing this in an effort to keep the street clean?  Or did he stoop, instead, for the 15 cents (or so) that this can would fetch at the bottle depot – maybe even glad to beat me to the treasure?  Tellingly, my curiousity about his motives brought my own motives for slipping behind the tree into relief.  Was he a good Samaritan to the planet while I was ignoring my neighbour?  Or was I making space for an elderly couple, one of whom was really an entrepreneur with a good sense for freebies? 


My decision to step around the tree hardly seemed to be a decision; it was more of an instinctual act and so not readily available for analysis.  Nor, indeed, are the whys of the elderly gentleman ready at hand, so I can hardly make sense of his motives.  For that matter, they do not much matter.  He did a good thing – possibly for one of the two above reasons, or perhaps both, or maybe even something altogether different (it could be he collects Laker cans for a hobby).  But in retrospect, it struck me that we make so many decisions on the spur of the moment that have unintended consequences.  These split minute decisions are largely – and miraculously – safe, sensible and sound.  It is surely a mystery that this is so and more marvelous still is the gift given us from time to time to pause and ponder the wonder of these small encounters and they way they make our lives simply interesting.


8 thoughts on “Skirting Thoughts

  1. Marie Taylor says:

    Nicely observed. Your mind must have been in a somewhat contemplative mood to begin with or the whole decision process would have passed you by unnoticed. Sometimes it seems as though there are currents that bring us together and part us in an unconscious way.

  2. Seems to me that it’s the observation of these split-minute decisions that makes life interesting; you’ve raised something from the pool of the unconscious to the conscious, polished it and set it up for us to see. Thank-you.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Many thanks for your kind words. I agree that the split minute decisions sometimes make life completely interesting even though we rarely take the time to think them through. But why not?

  3. shoreacres says:

    Neither better nor worse, my response would have been to pause and let them pass, perhaps greeting them in the process. At my nearest grocery store, it’s a frequent decision, as the posts they have placed to protect their propane refill bottles mean people coming and going with their carts constantly are having to either stand back or speed up in order to “shoot the gap”.

    On the other hand, I know a person or two who would fight for “their space” to the bitter end. Running the couple off the sidewalk wouldn’t be very nice, but I know people who’d do it.

    As for his picking up the can – who knows? I think he’s just a tidy sort – but that’s purely imagination at work!

    • agjorgenson says:

      I might have stopped in a grocery store, but when walking longer distances I fall into a pace that is rhythmic and so not easily disturbed. But I suspect you are right about the can: he seemed to be a kind, gentle man.

  4. jannatwrites says:

    We have interactions (or non-interactions) like this every day. I think it’s interesting that this one prompted so much thought. It makes me wonder if there was something God wanted you to gain from the encounter.

  5. agjorgenson says:

    I suspect you are right: there is something there for me to garner. I’m still thinking about that and the fact that we have more non-interactions than interactions.

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