Most of us are creatures of habit. Think of the way we stick with one breakfast cereal, the order in which we tackle domestic chores, the way we walk or drive to work.
But happy distractions sometimes reshape our routines. Lately, my choice of route to the office has been governed by a newfound friend. She's 3 months old, has the softest winter coat you've ever stroked, gleaming brown eyes, and enough energy to fill a children's playground. She's a subtle blend of poodle and golden retriever named Pokey.
Every morning as we walk toward each other on the street, animation literally takes over. I put down my briefcase to chat with her and run my fingers through her silky caramel coat. She jumps all over me and converses through soft yelps of delight. Sometimes I fear her watchful owner - a young man probably in his 20s - might be just a little chary of our public display of affection.
But I can be miffed, too. Imagine my concern one morning when my view of the prancing Pokey was obstructed by a slovenly hulk of a man who seemed determined to have the sidewalk to himself. He had dragged himself into untied sneakers, frayed jeans that scraped the ground, and a torn anorak with an ill-fitting hood.
What's worse, he had one ear plugged into an iPod and hadn't even noticed my attempts to get past him. He must be dour, inconsiderate, arrogant, and incapable of feeling, I decided.
He reached Pokey first, and impulsively I leapt forward as if to say, "Mind the puppy! Watch where you're walking." In my thoughts, I must have attached at least six more labels to that young man before he came within admiring distance of Pokey.
But Pokey was in his arms before she'd even spotted me. She licked his unshaven face (and he let her!), she rolled herself between his muddy, untied sneakers, and they talked loudly to each other, using words that were different from ours, but just as silly and affectionate. Would it never end? I wondered impatiently. I'd be late for work!
Eventually the young man gave Pokey a last hug, and over his shoulders she caught a glimpse of me. She wriggled free and hurled herself at my well-pressed slacks. It was my turn. The other fellow grinned broadly and strode forward with new spirit.
Then, through Pokey's curly locks, I saw him spring up with his arms flung wide, balance himself on the gutter ledge, leap high in the air - and onto the road - and then back onto the sidewalk. His domineering command of the sidewalk had given way to an extraordinary display of exuberance and joy.
Gone, too, were my surly labels: my judgmentalism, my jealousy, my foolish restrictions on the amount of happiness anyone - or any creature - can share with others.
Obviously, that's something Pokey already knows! Tomorrow, I must remember to thank her.