An older man walked past me yesterday slowly with his cane and his baseball cap with the rim flat and unbent and his black Velcro sneakers and a green fleece shirt and khaki dress pants.
In that moment, all I saw, was an old man.
I kept walking and began thinking about how quickly I categorized this man. How quickly my brain worked, quicker than my heart could catch up, and put him into the category “old”.
And then my heart caught up. And my mind.
I began to think about all the moments in this man’s life that I was not seeing in this one moment our paths crossed. I was not there to see his Kindergarten teacher, or nap time, or whether his mom packed him baby carrots in a neat ziplock bag for snack time, or threw in a pack of oreos, or if she forgot his snack today. Maybe she was the kind of mom that wrote him little notes on his brown paper bagged lunch, or maybe she was the kind of mom who yelled a lot, or…maybe he didn’t have a mom around at all. I was not there to see whether he was a member of chorus, or the 5th grade drummer in the school band, or the best kickball player on the team in gym, or maybe he was the tree in a school play.
I was not there to see the first girl to ever break his heart, or the girl whose heart he broke. Was not there to see the times he got in trouble for breaking curfew, or the cars that he backed into learning how to parallel park. Was not there to see the woman who taught him how to treat a lady, or the man who taught him how to tie his tie, standing behind him in a mirror. Was not there to see the conversations with his wife over a glass of cabernet sauvignon, about the mundane simplicities of a Tuesday night, the thing that his boss said to him that day, or the promotion he received.
I was not there to see the cigarettes he smoked or did not smoke, the “clinks” of glasses at dinner with old friends and new friends. Was not there to see the midnight snacks he would sneak when he couldn’t sleep. Was not there to see his bashful smile as his bride headed down the aisle toward him. Not there to see the birth of his daughters or sons, or his friends babies, or the sadness in his eyes at not having children when he wanted them so. I was not there to see who he voted for for president last year, or the year before, or the year before, or any year since he turned 18. Was not there to see how he reacted in times of trouble, times of triumph, times of despair. Was not there to see if he ordered regular or diet with his meal, or water with a squeeze of lemon, or a dark beer. I was not there to hear how he takes his coffee, milk or cream, one sugar or two, or does he take it black?
As I continued on, I glanced back to see him gracefully traveling along, one step after the next, careful, cautious, deliberate. I looked down at my own legs, youthful and strong. I waited and watched until he rounded the corner and then I continued on my way, thoughtful and yet somehow a bit guilty about this casual crossing of our paths.
In that original moment, all I saw was an old man.
And then my heart caught up.