Perhaps the two most memorable lessons my father taught me as a child were never to buy bottled water when you can drink tap water for free, and always to take a few moments out of the day just for yourself.
With the exception of a summer vacation in Mexico, I have practiced both these lessons religiously.
Four years ago, I moved to a beautiful suburb of Dallas, where the suburban sprawl of the dotcom '90s erected a number of plush neighborhoods spilling over with modern architecture. With their avant-garde features of circular roofs and elliptical doors, they seemed closer to the product of a Picasso Cubist painting than an actual home.
Among the tangle of domes and polygons was a four-mile stretch of green grass, stately oaks, and patches of wild yellow roses called (appropriately) Pleasant Valley Park.
I loved the park's scenery, and so I began taking a few moments out of my day to jog down the park trail. Jogging in the early hours of the morning, when the twilight slowly brightened to daybreak and revealed flocks of ducks waddling from the nearby pond, gave me a Rockwellian sense of comfort. It was the only hour in the day when I really felt connected.
Two weeks into this morning routine, my quiet meditation was suddenly interrupted.
Bill was a new neighbor who had just moved into the Southern plantation-style house across the street. He was a short and pudgy man with graying hair and a pair of small black-rimmed glasses that made him look more like a professor of mathematics than an attorney.
Bill's voice was soft and meek, but he had an animated way of speaking that betrayed his humble veneer and suggested that his reputation as a brilliant lawyer was no accident.
After moving in, Bill began jogging with me every morning, and my quiet meditation was soon replaced with lively conversations. Suddenly, my solitary connection with the nature of Pleasant Valley Park was turned into a partnership.
For the first three days, I indulged Bill with neighborliness and friendly small talk, but on the fourth day, I made no attempt to conceal my frustration. I felt disconnected, and angered by Bill's intrusion.
Three weeks passed, and every morning I held in my frustrations and politely listened to Bill's lectures on topics as diverse as the finer points of lawn care and the degree of George Washington's significance in the American Revolution.
My work life had become increasingly hectic, and now, more than ever, I missed the quiet moments I once had shared with Pleasant Valley Park.
Finally, one Monday morning I resolved to tell Bill that I preferred to jog by myself. I indulged him one last time, as he told me about his oldest son, who had just been accepted into Stanford University Medical School. I told him that my daughter would also be attending school in California, at Berkeley, and as we continued to talk, it turned out that Bill and I shared the same alma mater.
As we came to the end of our jog, we stopped to sit and rest on a park bench. Just as I was ready to tell Bill that I preferred to enjoy the scenery of Pleasant Valley Park on my own, I paused for a second to offer him a drink of my water.
Bill looked at me for a moment, and said, "I hope this isn't bottled water, because I never touch the stuff."
I almost broke out into laughter, as I assured him that I shared his sentiments.
The next morning, I decided to jog with Bill again, and as we continued to talk, I found that we shared many more things in common. Suddenly, I began to feel connected again.
It's been two years since I first started jogging with Bill, and although I still practice my father's lessons religiously, now I also take a few moments out of my day to jog with a friend.