A strange thing happened the day I stopped running. For half a century I ran every possible day and reaped the rewards: runner’s high, spectacular scenery, increased appetite and, ultimately, the reward of a respectable age. Then one day my knees had a talk with me.

“Hey! Hey up there … we’ve been thinking it over, and to tell you the truth, we’d actually rather walk than run from here on out … sorry.”

That was a severe blow. Running was not something that I did, a runner was something that I was … no more. I was now a walker, and though my knees were happy, I was miserable. The rest of my body wanted to run. “Hey, it’s raining out here and we’re not dressed for this, can we run home and get out of the rain, please?”

But the knees chimed in, “Fugetaboutit!”

Then an interesting transformation began to evolve. While out walking I took to petting dogs I happened to encounter along the way, so I started carrying dog treats in my pockets and soon enough I knew every dog in the village by their first name. Within a month they were laying for me in waiting, Daisy the Border Collie, Pinekipaka the German Shepard, Sue the Pit Bull and Gus the Saint Bernard. Were they not on leashes, I might have all of them here at home with me tonight.

I also started talking to my canine friends’ masters, and because their dogs were familiar with me, they too were friendly, which initiated casual conversations. I found myself making almost as many human friends as dog friends.

Before, as a runner, I would have blown right by these newfound friends with little more than a fleeting wave, and now we were exchanging pleasantries and small talk that sometimes led to meaningful conversations. This was a luxury I had never before experienced.

One gentleman shared with me a recent heart rendering revelation that he and his wife, formerly thought childless, were contacted by a previously unknown biological son who introduced them to three grandchildren they didn’t know they had, and he related how happy they all were in their newfound family.

I’m starting to believe I might be the benefactor of a socially rewarding conversion from runner to walker. I now look forward to conversing with strangers. So is there a moral to this story? I think so. I think the moral of the story might be found in discovering the value in relating to strangers. Talking to friends can oftentimes be pretty predictable, where talking to strangers can be full of pleasant surprises.

Now that I’m a happy walker, I’m loving my newfound four-legged friends, my newfound two-legged friends and the luxury of being able to follow with my eye the flow of a stream, the flight of a bird, the scudding of a slow moving cloud overhead.

Yes, I’m a walker, and life is good.

McAvoy Layne is a 30-year impressionist of Mark Twain who can be reached at GhostofTwain.com.

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