I went to a high school that was located in a downtown area. One of our greatest privileges was that we were on an open campus. During lunchtime we would journey out into a park that sat across the street from the school. There was not much to do there, other than to hang out and watch the senior citizens that congregated on the well shaded park benches.
The groups of gray-haired individuals remained fairly constant, as did the benches or picnic tables that they occupied. You would find silver-colored crew cuts hovering over chess boards, or packs of women busily working away at their knitting. Regardless of their endeavor at the time, these packs of elderly also enjoyed gossiping away the time. Every now and then you would see an older person sitting alone at the far end of the park. They seemed lost in reminiscence, oblivious to the world around them. Somehow I always felt badly for them and their self-imposed solitude.
At the tender age of sixteen, I was fairly certain that anybody over the age of fifty was ancient. Having hit the half century mark in the past year; I have upgraded my definition to mean anyone over the age of seventy-five!
There is a city park not too far off from where we live. At any given time there are at least a half a dozen dogs frolicking out on the grass. Needless to say, it is a preferred destination when my hound and I take our morning walk! She enjoys the new scents that have been left overnight and I find myself soothed by being out in the open air.
This oasis within the city is some two blocks square, with a small man-made lake sitting in the center. A fountain spews water near the center of the oversized pond and ducks line the shore. Several paved trails wind around the perimeter, with park benches strategically situated under large shade trees.
Working our way around a bend early one morning, Xena and I came upon an old man sitting back on one of the sunlit benches. He was staring out at the water and did not seem to notice us approaching. My memory reeled back some thirty-five years to the poor old man sitting alone on a bench in the downtown park near my high school. Looking at the person in front of me, it all seemed so sad.
As we neared the individual, I noticed that he was lost in thought. Yet there appeared to be a self-satisfied look etched upon his well wrinkled face. Being the park’s unofficial social director, my hound immediately went over to greet him. The kindly man gave her a slow “hello” and a gentle pat on the head. She became putty in his hands. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we headed back down the path.
Shortly we were half way around the lake and directly across from where the old man was seated. There was a smile on his face as he lounged back against the bench. The grin was not directed at us, but rather off to our left. I looked in that direction and saw nothing in particular that could be captivating his interest. Obviously he was looking back in time to a place where I had never been.
By my estimation, this individual had to be well into his eighties. I was certain that he had led a full life too. There was a sense of ease about him, the sign of somebody who has nothing left to prove. He did not seem to mind being alone, accompanied by the ghosts of those he had loved and known throughout his life. He was simply satisfied.
As I look ahead to the next thirty years of my time on this earth, I have to ask myself a critical series of questions. Will I be sitting on a bench sometime in the future, that fond of where my life went? Will I remember those who passed before me in a cloud of love? Will I have touched the lives of others and made them better people in the process? Will I be satisfied with what was a “life well-lived?”
An odd thing has occurred over the past several mornings. I have found myself treasuring every moment that goes by, knowing that it will be the stuff of my memories all too soon! I find a compelling need to reach out to family, friends, and strangers at every opportunity. Today I am creating what will be my yesterdays in the near future!
Here, let me slide over a bit. Let’s sit on this bench together!