Volunteering at the Orange County Animal shelter on Newland in Huntington Beach has been a highlight of my life. Getting to know the dogs and offering them a bit of relief from their time in the pens, and the moments we share enjoying each other’s company by way of petting and cuddling, is something that no amount of money can buy.
The area around the shelter has also given me another perspective about life in a way that has been a true revelation. As some of you may have noticed, there are quite a few homeless people living in the vicinity of Newland and PCH–often the people move on and I don’t see them again. At that point I wish them well in my mind and hope that wherever the path of life leads them they find peace and a good life.
It had been my good fortune to meet someone very special a few years ago; she came to become a friend I looked forward to seeing and chatting with. Her name was Annie Bonelli and she enlarged my world in a way that even in my 70s caused me to look at things differently.
Annie had a very good heart. Her smile and kindness attracted people who would otherwise try to avoid making eye contact or having anything to do with a “homeless person.”
My first interaction with Annie was about three years ago while I was walking one of the little shelter pups down Newland Street. There was Annie, all of her belongings in a cart that she was wheeling towards PCH. Perched on top of the cart was a small animal crate and inside of the crate was a happy little pup that I learned was named Teke.
She looked at the little dog I was walking and gave me her beautiful smile while explaining how much she hoped all of the dogs at our shelter would find wonderful homes. She meant every word of that and the irony of her statement struck me right away. Here was a lady who had so little in the way of worldly goods but obviously was happy with what she had and also offered a loving home to her little blind dog, Teke.
My perspective grew after that encounter and I believe my basic premise, that it is not what we own but who we are and how we treat the world, is most important.
For those people who look at material possessions and pass judgment on the worth of a person, Annie would probably fall short of what her value was. How sad for them, because knowing her and seeing the world through her eyes has definitely given me another outlook.
She loved Teke and cared for him meticulously. I would see her offering him his food on a scrupulously clean plate and always had a ready smile and kind word for the other volunteers I worked with, in fact, anyone who took the time to see past the exterior she presented to the world.
She was happy with what this life offered her and obviously wasn’t impressed by people who had “more”—whatever that denotes. Perhaps what Annie left us is a good lesson in what life really is all about.
You see, we lost Annie on Valentine’s Day this year. She was hit by a vehicle while crossing Newland Street and Pacific Coast Highway.
The rain subsided on the Sunday of Annie’s memorial and the air was fresh with a wonderful sea breeze as about 80 friends from every walk of life gathered to celebrate Annie.
She touched the hearts of many with her humanity, kindness, and humble attitude. She didn’t do what many refer to as “big things” but rather she did small things in a big way. She made us realize that no matter what our life circumstance is, we can still be kind.
God bless you Annie–you taught us all to be grateful for what we have.
You taught us that a smile and a kind word is worth ever so much more than a designer label or an expensive car.
You made the most of what you had and enjoyed the world around you.
You were a kind person, Annie, and a wonderful teacher.
We were reminded at the memorial that we all have hearts that beat regardless of our status in life. We all have the ability to feel joy and sadness, and Annie opened our eyes to the fact that we all share a need to feel connected, to reach out and smile at someone that we otherwise would not want to offer our smile.
Thank you, Annie. May you now be at peace and at home.