This morning, the Husband gives Pam a break with a guest post.
I had seen them many times before, walking through the streets of our former neighborhood in upstate New York: a man and his wife, older, but not “elderly,” always dressed nicely but never ostentatiously, in serene and stately stride with their two large and stunning purebreds, confidently but unselfconsciously putting those refined canine profiles and incredibly long, luxuriously silky coats on display for the rest of us to admire.
Each time, it was like being transported to the Westminster Dog Show. And each time, I found the show wonderful to watch—intimidatingly so, in fact. Although neither of these lovely people had ever given me a reason to feel this way, their very self-possession somehow made the thought of initiating a “hello” while wearing anything less than a tux an impossibility for me.
I do get into my own head like that sometimes. And this habit leaves me flat-footed when the world outside sends little opportunities my way, such as on the morning the pair happened to look across the street and notice me walking Honey.
“Your golden retriever is wonderful,” the man offered.
“Thank you. And you don’t need me to tell you that your. . . alpacas are magnificent.”
Without missing a beat, the man opened a broad smile and responded, “You’re very gracious.”
I walked away feeling pleased enough with this exchange, but somehow unsatisfied with my particular part in it. And I was halfway down the next block when it came to me.
“Alpacas. . . alpacas. . . afghans.” I had, in fact, just complimented this elegant couple on their llamas. (Not that llamas couldn’t have been just as elegant, the spitting notwithstanding. . . )
And they, in turn, had deftly sidestepped an opportunity to make a well-meaning but otherwise demonstrably ill-equipped neighbor feel like the idiot he had shown himself to be.
Knowing I would run into them again sometime after the embarrassment that would fuel such histrionics had abated, I decided to restrain the urge to run back right then and there and throw myself down at their feet in apology. And so I was better prepared a few weeks later when another little opportunity brought the entourage across my path.
“Good afternoon,” I offered.
“Good afternoon,” replied the man.
“You might remember me. I complimented you on your alpacas a few weeks ago.”
“Oh, yes.” His eyes lit up with recognition and perhaps a little amusement, but no contempt.
“I just wanted to let you know I think your afghans are magnificent.”
That broad smile again, and “Thank you very much.”
People who live in their own heads, such as I do, need many little opportunities to learn lessons that are perfectly obvious to anyone living in the world outside. The one I learned here is that it is OK to make mistakes—even embarrassing ones—and that the world outside does not necessarily require you to surrender your dignity as the price of setting them straight.
Oh, one other lesson, taught me by a classy-looking couple in my old neighborhood in upstate New York: Classy is as classy does.