What started as a whisper, Slowly turned into a scream ... Silence is the loudest parting word you never say.
— Ben Harper
As I sat in my car at a red city traffic signal in the gray light of approaching dawn, my mind on nothing in particular, my wandering eye focused on a figure sitting alone at an outdoor table.
A nearby streetlamp illuminated the distinctive outline of an elderly gentleman, his dark features barely distinguishable in the indirect lighting and the shadows cast by overhanging trees. In that instant, as many as a dozen or so thoughts entered my mind in a rapid succession that put me in a state of temporary sensory overload.
Since that chance early-morning sighting, I’ve tried to untangle the confusion of thoughts and images that keep popping into my head at odd times, always accompanied by the faraway look on the face of that gentleman left alone with what I can only assume were his thoughts and memories.
One of the things I keep coming back to as that gentleman’s ghostly image creeps into my thoughts is the inevitability of time’s passage. In our impatient youth, the hours can’t tick away fast enough: Why is it taking so long for Christmas to get here? How are we expected to wait out these interminable days until we’re old enough to drive ... to date ... to move out of the house and start our own lives?
But then, at a different point for each of us, that devious time that teased us and tested our patience for so long with its snail’s pace suddenly crests life’s hill and starts its rapid descent, all hell-bent-for-leather at break-neck speed. The milestones that always seemed so out of reach suddenly flash by in a blink: graduation, career, marriage, family, love, loss ...
And then, one day, it’s us sitting alone in the early-morning light with our thoughts and our memories.
When the traffic signal turned green that morning and I drove on toward another day of work, I found myself looking back in my rearview mirror, wishing I had the time and the temerity to go back and join that elderly gentleman. In my mind I see us having a cup of coffee, getting to know a little about each other and then just listening to some of the stories of his life.
One of the things this business has taught me is that there are amazing stories in every life lived. Few of us have raced into burning buildings to save lives or built companies from the ground up into industrial empires or lost our one true love to what Dylan calls a simple twist of fate or lived through some horror that continues to haunt our dreams all these years and decades later.
But most of us have stored away memories — of indiscretions that were well worth the risk, of best friends who inspired courage that we didn’t know we possessed, of wisdom that was passed on to us by some kind soul whose impact lingers, of first glances and first kisses and first loves — that become the manna that feeds our souls even as our lease on them nears its expiration date.
I know that, no matter my good intentions, I’ll never have that cup of coffee or hear the stories of this gentleman who has impacted my life without so much as a thought. I have no doubt that I’d enjoy hearing his stories, and there’s a pretty good chance that he might impart some wisdom that would sustain me when it’s my turn to sit alone in the early-morning light.
But I’ve got meetings to cover and stories to write and bills to pay and fences to put up and a novel to write and a family to love. So I’ll leave that gentleman to his solitude and silently wish him peace. And I’ll continue my own daily battle against time, bargaining all the while for a few more significant memories to put away for the rainy days of my existence.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.