Vail Daily column: The meaning of life … or something
August 18, 2010
Not to get all Dr. Phil on you people – but I think I have discovered the meaning of life.
As I’ve always suspected, it wasn’t in a book, Bible or philosophical writings; rather, it was on the corner of French and Wellington streets in Breckenridge.
I’ve been feeling kind of mental lately. I’m not sure if it’s male menopause or my history of head injuries, but I seem to be overly introspectively and emotional. Or perhaps I’ve just reached the age where almost weekly someone close to me is facing the challenges of health and aging, and that is a reminder of my own mortality. So I was ripe for the discovery of a poignant, moment; a moment that to me reflected the best of the human condition.
I was bicycling home from work when I passed a young boy, about 7 years old, walking slowly down the street, holding the hand of an elderly man. From my mind’s eye, I saw a resemblance between child and adult; my guess was grandson and grandfather.
The older man was slightly stooped, had thick white hair and walked very slowly with a cane. The boy looked to be taking unnaturally small steps and moving at a pace to which he was unaccustomed. The older man seemed to be in no hurry, while the child looked like a greyhound on a leash.
I passed them once, then turned around to get a better look. As I approached from the front, I noticed the boy looking up at the older man while gesturing emphatically with his free hand. He seemed to be telling a story. The elderly dude kept his eyes on the sidewalk ahead (perhaps looking for obstacles) while he smiled and nodded. The expression on his face was easy to read – contentment, love and patience.
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As I said, it is very possible that I’m crazy – perhaps even likely. But in that one snapshot of time I saw, what I consider all in life that is important and undeniable – nurture, compassion and the inevitability of time.
I imagined the young boy telling his stories of his school-yard fears, triumphs and challenges while the granddad offered advice and understanding. From both, there would be love and a blurring of the line of who was taking care of whom; in truth the boy was helping the old man to walk safely while the old man was teaching the boy to live well. At least, that is what I imagined.
When I was a little older than that young boy, in my teens, I used to drive my Grand Mum to her Wednesday night bingo at the Immaculate Conception Church Hall. We would park as close as possible and then I’d walk her, agonizingly slowly, across the parking lot, down the stairs into the hall and get her settled. Then, for a couple of hours, I would hang with my friends before returning to take her home. The parking lot would be filled with children and grandkids assisting old ladies and men. I remember the looks of impatience many of us had on our faces. I know I wanted to drop my grandmother off as quickly as possible so I could be free.
Just as we arrived home, before I would help her out of the car, she would press a 50-cent piece in my hand and say, “Don’t tell your mother.”
Even back in those ancient days, 50 cents was not a lot of money. And I still don’t know why she didn’t want me to tell my mother, but I would thank her like she just gave me a Rolex and walk her inside.
I wish I remembered more about those evenings. I wish I could say I wasn’t impatient and did not consider it a burden. I do know I would kill for the chance to do it again.
It was while I was thinking all that when I made another U-turn and headed back by the two generations still heading up French Street I wish I could have said as much to that young boy. I wish I could have said, “Savor this moment with someone who will one day be a memory.” I would have told him this man whose hand you are holding is the man you might become.
I might have said all that but didn’t because as I pulled up alongside them, I thought I heard the young boy to say, “Granddaddy, I think that creepy man on the bicycle is following us.”
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or from http://www.webersbooks.com