Longer Lonely

The sun shone and the children gleefully played as the lonely man in the worn
blue sweater sat feeding the birds. He sat there every day, just feeding the
birds and watching the children have their fun. As I ran around the paths in the
park, I could see him sitting there, always alone. I slowly jogged around the
path and as I rounded the sharp corner, I looked for the man who usually sat on
the old bench in the far corner of the park. I could see him sitting there, one
ankle, clothed in a shocking white athletic sock, crossed over his knee. He wore
the same thing every day, the clothes looked like they had seen better days. His
muddy brown pants were threadbare and looked like they belonged to a giant. To
hold them up he had to use suspenders, on this bright morning he had chosen a
crimson red pair. Covering his stooped shoulders was a worn blue sweater, the
color made me think of cornflowers. Navy and dirty white canvas sneakers adorned
his feet. His white sock could be seen through a gaping hole in the sole. These
shoes had taken him to many different places. They were like an old friend that
he couldnít say goodbye to. On this particular day the sun was shining down,
warming the earth and lake, so many children played on the wooden swing set.

From where I stood on the path, I could hear their cheerful shouts, but could
not see them. What I could see was the old manís face. He had strong features:
a broad nose, deep-set eyes, and pronounced cheekbones. They had all sunken into
a deep sea of wrinkles over the years. You could tell that he had once been a
handsome young man. He was of an average height, but appeared taller as he sat
with a ramrod straight back. His eyes were an aquatic blue color, like the water
off of the coast of Puerto Rico. His hair was receding and had turned a pure
white instead of burnished silver. He appeared to be a distinguished gentleman.

He watched the children swing and slide on the rickety swing set. From where I
stood there appeared to be a look of nostalgia on his face. I couldnít help
but wonder what he was thinking about. Was it a memory of his own childhood?

Whatever the memory was, it made him appear to be missing something. While he
sat looking at the children, he reached beside him and pulled out a brown lunch
bag, spotted with grease marks. Slowly, with liver spotted hands, he reached
into the bag. The act of curling his fingers around something inside made him
wince in pain. I could imagine the pain that his body was wracked with, thanks
to arthritis. I wanted to run up and help him, but the look of determination on
his face stopped me from approaching him. Carefully extracting his hand, he
pulled out a handful of birdseed and bread crumbs. With a wide sweep of his arm,
he spread the mixture all over the ground. He repeated this act several times,
until a few gray pigeons came to feast. With a small smile on his face, he
watched the birds eat their meal. It was the happiest I had ever seen him.

Slowly, so as not to disturb the birds, I approached the balding man. Sitting
down next to him I introduced myself. Nodding his head, he mentioned that he
often saw me running. Spreading birdseed from the mixture he offered me, I felt
relaxed. Smelling the warm earth and listening to the childrenís cries mixed
with the sounds of nature was wonderful. I could feel the tension easing out of
me. As I sat next to him I observed his facial expressions. He appeared to be
oddly at peace. Curious about what he was thinking to appear so content, I asked
him what he was thinking. His response surprised me, something that rarely
happens. He told me that he was no longer lonely; he now had me. A lonely old
man in the park taught me an important lesson. Sometimes the greatest things are
overlooked. I only saw him as a lonely old man missing something from his life.

Then I sat down next to him. Next time, instead of observing, maybe Iíll sit
with him again. Sometimes, sitting next to someone and keeping them company, is
all the happiness they will need.