Life offers us many paths to wander down. Each has its own set of obstacles, challenges, and surprises. Some are good. Others not so. We won’t know which is which or what is what until we take those steps and journey.
Along anyone of these paths there’s always a good chance we will meet others doing the same thing as us. Some could be good. Others not so. We are given the choice here as well. We can simply pass without acknowledging the other. We can notice but offer nothing more than a slight smile or a quiet hello. Or we can choose to stop and talk to that person knowing that this choice also comes with a set of obstacles, challenges, and surprises.
There are four paths, if you will, that lead one to the park by my house. On any given day you will see kids playing sports, families celebrating, friends in deep conversation, and plenty of dogs leading their handlers down paths of their own making. If you time your visit right, there is a good chance you will see Marilyn, who for the last 45 years has completed at least one lap every day around the 1.3 mile pathway in the park.
“Truthfully, I don’t know when I began doing it. It probably started with the squirrels.” Whenever it was, today every fluffy tailed creature within that circular pathway can spot her light blue windbreaker and trademark Dodger’s cap from a hundred yards away. Even the most unruly and misbehaving pet will sit patiently for their turn to receive a small dog biscuit or a handful of kibble.
What is most surprising is that while Marilyn might have trouble remembering when she began spoiling everyone's pets, she seems to know every one of her four-legged friends by name. If you choose to introduce yourself to her, there is a great chance she will remember your name and story too.
At home, Marilyn has two cats named Frankie and Ava. But here at the park, it’s all about the dogs (and the squirrels). You might say this is what Marilyn likes to do with her hands, which is obvious as my dog pokes her nose towards her hands for a second (or maybe third) treat. “I never got into knitting or sewing or stuff like that. So, I guess I like to use my hands to feed dogs.”
In her past life, Marilyn used her hands to care for humans in her own special way. “I wanted to be a doctor, but I didn’t really want to do all the work and school that would take. So, I became a nurse.”
After attending nursing school in Vancouver, Marilyn came down to Los Angeles with her friend to see what opportunities they could find. As an only child, her mother wasn’t too keen on the idea but after Marilyn told her it was only for a year, her mother conceded. That was 1960.
Not long after arriving, the two interviewed for nursing jobs at UCLA hospital. Both were offered the job on the spot and started working the next day. Marilyn stayed at that job until she retired.
If you were to ask me, I don’t think she has really retired. At the age of 87, Marilyn takes care of a younger neighbor who because of health reasons is unable to get out to grocery shop or take her trash out. So, Marilyn does it for her. Like she said, “If you can help someone, you do it.” This is how she defines a good deed.
From my own observations, I suspect Marilyn helps many others too. Not just the pets, but the people who walk them. Rarely have I ever seen her without a slow-moving entourage at her side. As one of those persons told me, “Everyone wants to know Marilyn.” And know I know why. She is kind, generous, and simply a joy to be around.
I didn’t ask her why she never married. Perhaps her heart was too big to love or care for just one. But as I got to know her, I learned she always had a very close relationship with a friend at work who made her a part of the family. Although her friend as passed away, Marilyn is still close to her kids and their kids, and I suspect their pets as well. “Her children are my godchildren. I used to take care of them, but now they take care of me.”
While she hasn’t really strayed too far from the path she has chosen for herself, Marilyn doesn’t regret her choice. Instead, she feels blessed “to still be here doing everything I love do.” Which takes me to another thing Marilyn loves. Dodgers baseball. This was surprising considering she grew up Regina, Saskatchewan; a Canandian city that loves its hockey. “My parents watched a lot of sports, but I never liked hockey.”
She watches every Dodger game on television and has a pretty good handle on who’s in and who’s out. She is also a Lakers basketball fan, and like me tries to catch every game. “I love watching sports, and cheering for the players.” But that’s not all that she loves.
She loves crunchy peanut butter over creamy. “I like nuts.” And I love that she doesn’t think soup is a meal. “Unless it’s a stew then maybe that could be a meal.”
As my dog went in for dessert, I asked Marilyn who she’d like to have dinner with. Her answer was both a surprise and delight. “You’d be nice.” Considering how many meals she has fed my dog, I would have no problem inviting this beautiful soul into my home, to sit at my table, to break bread with me and my family.
There’s a song by the band The Handsome Family who sing “Some folks are like umbrellas, they come into your life with little meaning. And then there are the ones who make you hang on to every word.” That is Marilyn. How lucky am I that on this path I chose, I stopped and got a wonderful surprise?
Thankfully this path we both chose is circular. When I say goodbye to Marilyn today, I know our paths will cross again tomorrow. And like my pup, I know each time I stop to say hello I will walk away happy and content with whatever treat she has to offer.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”