On my way home the other night I saw something that I thought was one thing but as I got closer I realized it was something else. It left me reflecting on how quickly I can form an impression and even make some assumptions and judgments based on that impression.
I was driving up a long, gradual hill, on a three-lane road that was not very busy at 6:30 p.m. Up ahead on the right was a 2-3 story building and parking lot that I pass every day. The parking lot is bordered by a retaining wall and I saw a man sitting on that ledge, facing in my direction. In front of him but to the side just a bit was what looked like a large dog, a rusty red color like an Irish Setter with longish wavy hair. My impression, all occurring in just a few seconds, was that the dog was sitting, but sitting tall, alert but calm. My impression, from a distance, was of a man sitting comfortably with his dog next to him, companions at ease together waiting for something or just sitting and watching the world go by. I felt a fleeting moment of appreciation for their companionship and maybe a little bit of envy too.
My car kept moving me forward and I got closer to the spot where the man was sitting. In the next seconds, then, I realized that what I had thought was an alert, proud dog sitting loyally near his owner was actually a rust colored metal post, about a yard tall and maybe 4-5 inches in diameter, lodged in the ground in front of but a little to the side of the man sitting on the ledge. As I got closer still, I could also make out the features of the man’s face better. He was staring straight ahead, hands loose in his lap.
My initial impression of warm man-with-dog companionship changed instantly. In this fleeting moment I suddenly sensed or perceived – or assumed – loneliness, aloneness, a situation so different from my initial impressions and assumptions.
This fleeting moment left a feeling impression on me. There was such a stark contrast between my assumptions and the reality of the situation. I drove on, feeling sad for this man but intrigued by this few-seconds long experience.