Wednesday, August 19, 2015

(Re)Learning Life's Lessons... from a Raccoon

It’s 6:30 am. A general feeling of laziness prevails and a task as simple as slipping into a pair of jogging shoes today presents a challenge. Outside, I’m greeted by a thick sheet of unpleasantly humid air, an extension of the grey skies which today have mood ring-like qualities, oddly reflecting my momentary ambivalence. This sunrise along the Indian River will be marginal at best.
On the 5 minute car ride I roll the windows down and tinker with the air conditioning until the windshield begrudgingly defogs. I flip through the radio stations incessantly, settling on some unremarkable, mildly distracting pop tune for the short drive.
The main street that goes through Titusville could run through any small American city. Old buildings on either side flanked by sprawling parking lots, an old mall that has been torn down to make room for a more modern version of itself, cheap motels with art-deco-style signs advertising “Free HBO”.
I turn onto Indian River Drive and park in the first vacant parking lot I see. I imagine that I see a school of fish swimming in the river. No, it’s stones. No, it’s fish. Okay. No clue what it is. After all, I’ve locked my glasses in the car.
I jog for a few minutes, pass a lone pedestrian, snap a photo of the cloud-masked sunrise over the river, then jog further while musing silently about forming a friendship with her. I classify the thought as silly and decide to put it out of my head just as I am stopped in my tracks by a large animal scurrying up a tree. Could it be? A raccoon! A quick look up reveals an adorable masked face. He looks down at me, curiously. I snap photos of him like the über-tourist that I have become, then turn to share my wildlife spotting tip with the only other person crazy enough to be outside in the humid, early morning hour.

“They poop in my pool.” Clearly, she doesn’t share my enthusiasm.

“Oh.” I say. “But I live in Germany now and haven’t been home in two and a half years, so it’s really quite exciting for me to see one!”

“Waschbär.” She answers.

I stare at her in disbelief, knowing immediately by the way she said “Waschbär” that I am speaking with a native German. I try to wrap my mind around it. I seem to have accidentally, coincidentally, bumped into the only German residing on this portion of the Titusville riverfront. We walk for 20 minutes. She tells me about how she immigrated to America, I tell about how I immigrated to her home country. We talk a little about raising kids in each other’s countries, about transatlantic flights, about the trials and tribulations of bilingual families. She introduces herself as Ulla.

The walk is too short. I solemnly admit that I have to return the car to my mom, so she can bring my sister to the airport. And Ulla does what might be unthinkable for two strangers in Germany. She invites me inside while she grabs a business card to give me. I sit on the hammock in her entryway, a token from her year in Brazil. Funny. Another similarity. We both lived in various corners of the world.

Business card in-hand, I jog the short distance back to the car, grinning from ear-to-ear. I met an incredible woman. A kindred, traveling spirit. And I owed it all to a raccoon. Or a Waschbär. Life is funny that way. It's these little moments that convince me that there is a higher being out there, watching over us and smiling down at us. Filling our lives with meaningful moments and remarkable people, sometimes when we least expect it.

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