We sat together again on the same stone bench, only this time it was raining. It was raining hard – actually, it was pouring. We sat together on that bench in silence as we had the day before, but with one major difference that made the moment so much more memorable. It was raining. It was pouring.
And the old man’s hat was nowhere to be found.
I was learning from the old man as I sat with him on that bench, next to the pond that was slowly filling with water. I was learning from him as I was sitting there looking up through those huge droplets of rain and towards the darkened twigs at the tips of the tree branches. The branches that had held light golden leaves only one day earlier. Branches that gave just enough space to allow angels to cast warm sunlight all over my relaxed body the day before. Branches that were now soaked to the bone, just as the old man and I were surely becoming.
We sat there for a long time, again, before the old man said something to me. And what he said caused me to panic. Panic because up until then, I hadn’t felt an emotion that would allow me to express a response to what he had said. It was the same feeling someone experiences when they are told some grave news. News they weren’t expecting to hear. News that alters their existence.
The old man turned towards me, this time looking me dead in the eyes, with rain slowly trickling down his cheeks and over the wrinkles and without another ounce of movement said:
“I used to have a son, you know.”
It made my eyes snap back to the swirling clouds and the tips of those tree branches. It made me look up, holding a position that exposed my face to the rain. Not because of what he said, but because of who he told.
It also made me think. Thoughts I may share with you later. Later, because now really isn’t the time.
I didn’t reply. And he continued on.
“I’m not sure if this is something you want to hear. What I am sure of though, is that it’s something I need to tell you.”
And the rain continued to roll down his face as he looked straight ahead.
“I lost my son on a winter day. He was killed while outside playing. It was a terrible accident and that’s all I’ll say about it.”
I couldn’t tell if they were tears or not, because the old man’s sunken face was already wet. I was sure they were. Perhaps that’s why he had picked this day to share this with me. Because he knew it would rain and perhaps it would hide his tears and perhaps because he had wanted to see if I’d still show up. Show up to listen to him talk.
“Have you ever had something in your hands that you held so tightly – and no matter what you did, it still melted away?”
I didn’t reply.
“Have you ever loved something so much that you would willingly – not willingly – but gladly give your life for it?”
I didn’t reply.
“I would have given my life for my son. I would have died for him. But I was never given that chance. I lost him in my arms.”
And then he fell into what seemed like a trance and started speaking softly. Kind of like a hum…
“I created this pond for my son forever ago. His shadow would trace the forest as he would glide through, learning every corner. I created it for him. The pond. Where you and I sit today. Where my son and I sat together so many days of his life. Talking about his story and mine. The story for one that has come to a close but refuses to for another.”
And with that, the old man broke down in tears. He broke down right next to me and started crying. It was almost as if he needed to hear himself say the words he just said. He held his face in his bare hands – the same hands I described earlier, and so playfully, as being bony and old – the hands that now cradled his face as his thin white hair became more and more matted to his scalp by the rain. I sat and watched his back hunch forward as his sobbing continued. I didn’t know what to do beyond what I had done already – which was nothing.
We sat for a few more moments. And he finally looked up at me with lost drawn eyes. Eyes full of sorrow. A sight I had surely never seen, but one that uncannily reminded me of our conversation in the dirt parking lot so many years before.
He looked up at me and said, “He was only nine years old.”