Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The aged man sat on a park bench. All around him, there were families frolicking in the warm summer sunshine. Children were racing up the jungle gym and then screaming down the sliding boards. Mothers hollered at their children to behave. Fathers argued over different sports teams. Teenagers lounged in the shade of the large oak that was the center point of the entire park. Everywhere, there was movement and color; yet on the wooden bench, sat the grayed man with his shoulders bowed and in complete stillness.

All seemed to avoid this singular man on his singular bench. He seemed to stare at nothing, but then again, everything. The man’s hair was white and sparse. The wrinkles adorning his skin whispered of the story of his life and his loved but old fashion clothing spoke volumes to those around him. None of this spoke as loudly as his total loneliness did. He sat alone at the park. No one went to the park alone especially during the afternoon hours. After all, old people ruled the morning. As soon as school let out, old people were tucked safely away in their houses. This man was strange. It was afternoon, and he was defying the norms.

The old man stared at nothing, but then again, everything. His tired eyes took in the children joyously sprinting around, through, and on the jungle gym. He saw the mothers, the fathers, and the teenagers. He saw a world that he had been a part of it. He saw every stage of life that he, too, had walked through. He saw them for what they really were. In the mothers’ hollers for their children’s safety, he could see their tiredness. In the fathers, he saw himself years ago when he had been content with a life of a nine to five job. The old man knew he had defied the norms of the culture. The mothers and fathers probably assumed that he had wandered away from some nursing home. Meanwhile, the teenagers as the children were completely oblivious to his presence. He was okay with this. Long ago, he had learned to except that as an old person he was forgotten.

The man had lived his life with the word “forgotten” stamped boldly across it. Of course, with time, that word had become faded and forgotten. Yet, although faint, it was in control of his life. As a young man, he had married and had children. His wife left him. He never heard from her again. He never forgot her, but she had forgotten him. His children had married off and moved across the world. His grandchildren barely knew of his existence. He was forgotten.

Although lonely, being forgotten did not particularly bother him. Long ago, he had become accustom to the silence that seemed to encompass him. Silence was his friend. They had an understanding. After all, silence was his most loyal friend and not likely to leave any time soon. With the companionship of silence, the old man had learned much about himself. In some aspects, it would have been good if he had learned to value his friend, silence, earlier in life. If he had, perhaps silence would not be his constant companion now. Yet, this was the case. Therefore, the aged man sat on the park bench encompassed in silence and forgotten.

Not far off from the aged man, a little girl about three years of age completely clothed in pink with her hair in pigtails was contentedly drawing with a piece of chalk. Her older siblings ran about her and one of them scuffed her picture. Tears welled up in her eyes and spilled over her childish cheeks. The sibling scurried away hoping to escape his mother’s tirade. The little girl cried into her tummy for a bit because her mother was busy talking with a friend oblivious to what had just occurred. Slowly, she lifted her eyes to see if anyone saw her anguish. Only the old man saw her tears glistening like crystal on her cheeks in the sunshine. Compassion for the child filled his gray heart. As the child looked for someone who cared about her pain, she found the eyes of the aged man on the park bench. Looking at the old man with imploring eyes, the girl lifted her small soft hand with the piece of chalk offering it to him. It was a childish invitation.

Slowly, the old man pulled his body off the park bench. With slow, cautious steps, the old man tested his legs. He seemed to have been born into the world again. When he reached the child’s picture, he took the offered chalk and brought a smile back to the child’s lips as he tried to fix the scuff across her childish drawings. The mothers were temporarily struck silent as they at first watched distrusting this stranger who had approached the little girl. Then, they returned back to their conversation. The old man sat next to the little girl on the pavement and drew pictures for her. He did not notice the hard cement or think about the fact that he might have to try to stand in a couple of moments. He was intent upon bringing laughter to the little girl. In the same moment, the child’s laughter brought ridiculous joy tumbling through his entire body.

The world might as well freeze on this very moment for it seemed as though colors of rainbow streamed and exploded from the old man and little child as they played. Silence had to become friends with someone else and forgotten had to totally erase itself from the old man’s life because the aged man returned to the park every day in the afternoon. The aged man never sat on the park bench again unless it was to comfort one of the children who had taken a tumble. Children taking a tumble were a daily occurrence so he did sit on the bench, but never again alone.