Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust, like diamonds we are cut with our own dust – John Webster
One afternoon, while I was out running through my neighborhood, I came across an old man sitting by himself, quietly reading, on a park bench – a bench that had only recently been re-installed by the town.
Now, my neighborhood is not all that big and I pretty much know everyone. But the old man was not familiar to me.
Not at all.
He was fairly well dressed, and certainly not ragged or homeless. His shoes were clean, if not shined, his jacket obviously well worn but not frayed. Engrossed in his reading, he nevertheless sensed me approaching.
He cleared his throat, removed his glasses, patted the open space next to him, and said – well, really more or less commanded me – to join him.
I did so, willingly, even eagerly (if not entirely sure why).
The old man then offered his hand, covered mine with a thick, firm grip, and introduced himself as “Joseph” as I recited mine back to him. He told me that he was just passing through today and was resting a bit before moving on.
For the next 30 minutes or so, I listened, mostly, as Joseph revealed some details about himself that were surprisingly intimate coming from a stranger. Nothing salacious, mind you, but words one would more likely expect to flow during a conversation between two old friends.
And yet, there was nothing awkward or strange in his doing so.
At least not to me.
Among other details, Joseph told me that he was once an executive on Wall Street. He had had a large family, many friends, and had enjoyed quite a bit of status and prosperity over the years.
Then everything changed. Dramatically.
Like, in an instant.
All that he had, all that he had worked for, all that he had created for himself, had simply . . . vanished. No home, no job, no family, no wealth.
The details of what had happened weren’t really important, he insisted (and I never did learn what they were). Just the fact that his old life had suddenly fallen away into dust.
Without any warning, without a pause.
And while the agony of losing his family had never ceased, he had long ago surrendered himself into his new life – the simple, daily routines that come from eating, and living, and sleeping alone.
From being alone.
All of the time.
I don’t think that it would be fair to say that Joseph’s new life had surprised him by breathing into him some kind of unexpected but beautiful serenity.
In fact, he didn’t seem to have been moved in that direction at all. There seemed to exist some layer of anxiety just below the surface of his agonizingly calm words.
But even the stranger – that’s me – could easily recognize the wisdom gained in the face of disaster and inevitable change. And the certain knowledge that we all, ultimately, may one day similarly come full circle – compelled to surrender our habituated lives into this side of time.
Along with the simple realization that some just begin down that road a little earlier than the rest.
Sometimes, though, those very pioneers among us might actually help point the way home.
Like Joseph did for me.
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