Hat-tipping Angel

About two years ago, I decided to add running to my fitness routine. This was a big move for me. I had tried running in the past, but each attempt lasted exactly as long as it took me to be overcome by gasping, sputtering, and a severe stitch in my right side.

I did the sound effects on Billy Joel’s “Sometimes a Fantasy.”

One day, having a particularly difficult time of it, I came upon an elderly gentleman out for a stroll.  I use that term loosely because his physical state left him leading with his right foot and dragging his left foot forward to meet the right. Although it was summer and I was sweating bullets, he was dressed in a long-sleeved, button-down shirt, pants, and suspenders. He was also wearing a beige- and white-checked walking hat (perhaps called a stingy brim hat, though I’m no expert).

As I approached him, he smiled at me, raised his hat off his head, and set it back down again. I melted. It was like something out of an American Movie Classics film before that channel decided that classic movies originated in the 1990s. Then he said not “hello” or “hi” or “hey,” but “good afternoon.” He followed that with “be careful.” (I probably looked like I was on the verge of a massive coronary by that point.) I couldn’t help grinning as I ran past him with a bit more spring to my step. If he was out there taking one slow step after another, I could jog a few more blocks. And I did.

Over the course of that summer and fall, I saw him several times. I found myself looking forward to our exchange of formal greetings and became aware of how many people grunt at each other in passing. His presence always perked me up and I came to think of him as my jogging angel.

This past winter brought all outdoor running to an end. Snow, sleet, ice, repeat. When I finally got back out there in late March, I started off walking to get back in the swing but soon decided I needed to kick it up a notch and opted to try an interval training program, called Couch to 5K.

The first week of the program, which seemed so deceptively simple I almost jumped ahead, had me huffing and puffing after months of being a couch spud dud. Imagine my delight when I rounded the corner and saw my friend for the first time this season making his way up the block.

Then this past week, he was there again. I was starting to lose steam, but the sight of him instantly energized me. As I ran by, I called out, “You’re my angel. You keep me going.” He smiled, tipped his hat, and continued on his way.

What keeps you going?

The beginning runner’s dream.

Note: If you’re interested in the Couch to 5K program, check out Robert Ullrey’s podcasts, which provide music and verbal cues that indicate when to switch from running to walking and back again. He has one for each week of the Couch to 5K program.

51 comments on “Hat-tipping Angel

  1. Jess Witkins on

    Aw, I love that you told him he’s your angel. I had a moment like this. A kind old man in an ice cream parlor gave me a complimentary sample of just the flavor I wanted without me even asking. It was nirvana. Wait…I’m not sure I read this correctly. *scrolls to top of page again*

    Beautiful post, Margaret! It’s so important to stay fit these days! Do you know my roommate, Madge? She is phenomenal. Many a times has she talked me off the ledge of bologna and mustard sandwiches. She’s a real peach like that.

  2. Jackie on

    That brought a well of tears to my eyes. Beautiful. You should jot him a note and hand it to him the next time you see him. Knowing he is your inspiration may actually make his day more that he makes yours!

  3. Jackie on

    By the way, what is with the green alien figure next to my name. Although it kind of fits my frame of mind today as I am a little under the weather!!

  4. suzicate on

    This is such a sweet story. Those elderly gentlemen are the best. I’ve lost several such sweet southern gentlemen recently and my community is mourning our loss of such goodness. I’m glad you have your own personal running angel!

  5. Richard on

    Great story. And sad in that it stands out as so rare. There are too few gentlemen of his ilk left in this world.

    And, of course, there are too few hats that you can actually tip in such a way. Have you ever tried tipping a beanie hat? Last time I tried I covered my eyes and walked into a building. 😉

  6. huffygirl on

    I loved this story Margaret.
    I wonder if I have any biking angels? People don’t seem to have the same fondness for seeing bikers on the road as they do joggers. After all, we’re taking up the space the cars want to use, and wearing ridiculous-looking outfits at the same time.

  7. Deborah | The Monster in Your Closet on

    I love running, so it’s easy to keep going. Still, it’s definitely easier when folks aren’t calling me things like “fatty,” which was pretty commonplace when I was in law school. It’s easier still when three separate people give me the thumbs up on a single run and say things like, “Keep inspiring me!” That moves me from just running to running free.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      People called you fatty???? Let’s go kick some a$$. Where’s my boxing girls?

      I once had two walking ladies tell me I was looking good as I ran by. I clearly was not looking good (see response above), but I appreciated the support.

  8. rebecca @ altared spaces on

    Margaret, this story is beyond touching to me and I’m so glad you reached out to this gentleman.

    My step-father, a bit of a grump when I met him at age 8, softened as the years went by and he experienced the Love my mother gave him. (He was uber good to her as well) He dressed in an uncommon way as well. And he strolled his local park at a very SLOW speed. But every day.

    After he died and I was cleaning his apartment out a couple of his neighbors found me, “Did something happen to P___?” they asked. They told me how cheerful and giving he’d always been.

    It was such a windfall of generosity. Not the man with whom I’d grown up. And yet, there was great love, just delivered in a rougher package.

    I’ve reflected many times about his walks in the park. He was never speedy because he had a heart condition that caused him great pain (probably accounting for his sour moods at times) but his heart let him live long enough to walk beyond the bad mood.

    I’m so taken with this slow and steady approach to life. It has revolutionized the way I approach my own work. His smile kept growing because he took things at the pace he could handle.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Wow, thanks for sharing that, Rebecca. I can imagine how you must have felt when your step-father’s neighbors stopped by.

      It’s unfortunate that most people save their feelings for the eulogy rather than telling someone face-to-face what they’ve meant. It reminds me of the 75th surprise birthday party we threw for my grandmother. We asked everyone to contribute a poem, story, or memory, and we assembled it all in an album for her. During the night, many people stood and shared their contribution. It was an amazing evening for all of us. My grandmother was absolutely beside herself and commented afterward that she never knew how loved she was by so many people. It’s making me teary just thinking about it now. That party was a great idea because soon after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died.

      It also reminds me of the death of a virtual stranger who had nevertheless made an impression on me. I wrote about it on my blog a few years back: http://margaretreyesdempsey.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/death-of-a-salesman/

      After his tragic death, I sent a letter to his family. I never heard back, but I hope it was a comfort to them.

  9. Priya on

    A beautiful story; and a very well written one, too. Isn’t it amazing how these small acts of hat-tipping and “Good afternoons” make our day? I came here through Mostly Bright Ideas, and am glad I began my day with this story, Margaret. Thank you.

    PS: Happy Running/Interval Training!

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Thank you, Priya. I woke up earlier than usual today because I had to feed my neighbor’s cat. I decided to get my run in because it looked like a storm was brewing. I figured I wouldn’t see my angel because of the schedule change, but there he was, putting one foot in front of the other (in fact, it looks like his daily strolls have made him a bit more limber). He gave me a smile that was as bright as a halo, had he been wearing one of those instead of his hat. Now I’m really convinced he’s an angel. They show up whenever you need them, unlike mere mortals who tend to stick to a schedule. 😉

      By the way, I really enjoyed your collaboration with Charles on reincarnation, cricket, baseball, and heaven. http://partialview.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/live-die-repeat/

  10. girlboxing on

    What lovely moments! I’m struck by the sweetness and how something so simple can be so meaningful. We miss a lot when losing sight of such old fashioned values as politeness and simple courtesies. GREAT post!

  11. Linsey on

    How sweet of you to tell him he’s your angel. I bet that made his year!

    I loved your comment on my tea post. And I love the way tea requires a slower pace.

    Happy weekend!

  12. Jessica Sieghart on

    A while back, I accidentally bumped into someone walking around downtown. I was caught up in my own thoughts and not even paying attention to a single person that I passed on the street. I realized that I spent most of my time doing that and I decided to just start smiling saying hello to people. It’s amazing how something so simple can brighten your day, right? Since you’ve met your inspiration angel doing this, I’m determined to see if I can meet mine, too. I’m sure he or she is out there.

  13. Zahara on

    Howdy, Margaret! I love this story, too. Reminds me of the elderly gentleman I have begun seeing on my walks to school. He has a 6-month old puppy (chick magnet) called Ezmo, a liver and white King Charles Spaniel, so naturally I have to stop and gush over Ezmo. “We have to stop meeting like this”, said the man last time we met. “People are gonna start talking”, I replied. I also told him that the next time we met I was gonna steal Ezmo. Haven’t seen him since.

  14. Brenda on

    Indeed, what a grand story for a couple of reasons, first that you are taking care of you by making the time and commitment to your body, and two by sharing your inside thoughts with a fellow runner. I commend you for both. I am a 6AM at the gym kind of person because it’s the only time that works in my over caffeinated life. It’s a local low key gym. What surprises me is the number of seniors that are there when I am (it’s not a huge number, but it’s more that the younger set). I know why there are there-it’s to keep their bodies strong. On the mornings when I want to sleep in I know my fellow gym-setters will be there so I haul my Latin backside out of bed and knowing I couldn’t face myself if I didn’t go. If they can get up, well darn, so can I. A refreshing POV on exercise ( I hate it, but I love how it makes me feel, Xena, Princess Warrior, like).

  15. Linda Lewis on

    After a winter layoff, it’s hard to get back into an exercise routine, so good for you for being out there. Angels…I have many.there’s an elderly Japanese couple who jogs, or more accurately shuffles, through the neighborhood every day. Ther’s a guy where I play tennis who can barely walk, but he’s out there on the court enjoying the game. I know a lady in her nineties who is still threading her loom and weaving beautiful pieces. All these people remind me that it is important to keep on, no matter that sometimes you just wanna quit. Keep on, girl!

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      So true, Linda. I have an aunt who will be 100 in August and she is my idol. She has lived a successful, entertaining, enjoyable life and is just recently beginning to experience some medical problems. I hope I got those genes. But if not, I’m going to do my very best to keep on moving and experiencing. It keeps you young.

  16. Ray Colon on

    Hi Margaret,

    What a nice story, both for you and the gentleman. He probably looks forward to those brief encounters too.

    By sharing your early success with your running program, you have given me a nudge to get back out there and exercise. I’ve been fixin’ to do it for a while. I even downloaded a running tracker app. Now all that’s left is the running part. 🙂


    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Hi Ray,

      Glad I was able to motivate you a bit. Heaven knows I needed some motivation to get started again after this brutal winter we had. Do give Couch to 5K a try. I just started Week 3 and it really leads you in slowly. Good luck, and thanks for stopping by.

  17. Melinda on

    Aaa the unused app that resides on my iPhone mocking me. I thought just purchasing would be motivating but I need a 200 lb muscle man knocking on my door to get me to use it. Good thing apps don’t collect dust. You may have inspired me to click on it.

    Your angel…how sweet. A hat tip!! That’s just the best.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Oooo, if you have the app on an iPhone then you have the nice version where you can listen to your own music and still get verbal cues to move from walking to running, etc. I just have the low-level iPod, so I have to use Ullrey’s podcasts. Though I wouldn’t listen to the music he uses outside of my running program, I don’t mind it. It fades into the background and lets me think my thoughts as I run.

      I think we may be starting our own Couch to 5K online support group in this Comments section. 😉


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