Leaves crunched beneath my boots as I stepped onto the bike bath. A thin layer of snow outlined my footprints. Wind poured from Lake Michigan, leaving a chilly aftertaste, like drinking ice-water during a blizzard, and frozen waves stood in the bay.
Despite the frost and naked trees, the cold seemed to whisper of hope and joy—almost a flirtation. Christmas was near. A snowflake kissed my wind-chapped cheek, and a Christmas tree, looking almost embarrassed by its cheerfulness, twinkled from a window.
Turning my back on Lake Michigan, I climbed a hill. A man emerged from one of the houses I passed. He walked across the road with a lop-sided gait, and I raised my gloved hand in a semi-wave. He gave me a smile that matched the temperature and flashed a thumbs-up sign then pumped his arms in imitation of my vigorous march. He didn’t speak, but his grin stretched wider. Yet, his face still seemed frozen.
I continued on but something nagged at me. I wondered what had happened to him. A stroke? An accident?
The sidewalk descended, so steep that I had to jog, thrown forward by gravity. Soon I met the man again on the circular road. I strode down the hill, and he slowly ascended. The smile reappeared on his face. This time excitement reached his eyes–perhaps glad to be walking on this wintry day, full of promise for the cheerful season to come.
I blurted out another good morning, but he was still silent. When we were side by side, I looked into his eyes, then glanced away. The moment ended, a connection almost made yet lost in seconds.
Because, too late, I saw his outstretched hand, opened and waiting for my own hand to be placed inside his mitten. I reached out as he passed, my arm stretching to his back while he continued up the hill. But he didn’t notice my action either. The silent, smiling man crested the hill and disappeared.
As I walked back toward Lake Michigan, I hoped he understood that I hadn’t seen his gesture. I thought about other outstretched hands that I had missed during my life.
When I reached the trail, a solitary woman with a dog strolled ahead of me. The dog, stopping often and sniffing, tugged at its leash. A lamppost was particularly irresistible, and impatience wafted from the woman like cheap perfume. Frizzy curls covered her head like a cap, and I said hello, turning to catch her eyes, hoping for a chance at redemption. She mumbled a greeting out of the side of her mouth, her thin lips turned down.
My thoughts returned to the man on the hill with his awkward gait and silent smile. Next time I’ll be ready for the outstretched hand. During this, of all seasons, I’ll be ready.