An old man sits quietly on the bench, looking up at the clouds on a beautiful warm fall day. He comes to this place often, to sit on the bench and let the sun warm his skin. From time to time he glances at the memorial stone a few feet in front of him. He knows every nook and cranny on that stone. He helped place it her himself many years ago, when he was both younger and stronger.
He was a big man once, over six feet tall and well over 200 pounds for the bulk of his adult life, but the years had diminished him somewhat. He was shorter and quite a bit skinnier these days, his skin hung from him like a fathers suit coat on a young boy playing at being a grown up. He was old and wrinkled, but he was still prone to smile at the sunrise or the laughter of his grandchildren.
The man comes to this place as often as he can, at least once a day when the weather allows. He likes it here, he thinks of it as “his” place, not in the sense of possession, but in the sense that he belongs here. It’s quiet on a Wednesday morning. On weekends in the spring and fall the squeal of children playing a simple but beguiling game echoes around the field, but all he can hear today is a lawnmower in the distance and the chatter of two sparrows watching him and perhaps hoping for a handout.
On days like this he can’t help but think of a long ago Wednesday, also in the fall, the day when everything in his life had changed. It was unseasonably warm on that day too. The years had dulled the pain, but never the longing. He still wished to see the boy again, even today, decades later.
He used to keep this spot clean, pulling weeds and picking up any litter, but it has become too difficult for him to bend and straighten for the last few years. A man who works for the town sees to it now, he knows how much this spot means to the old man he still calls “coach”. This little place is as beautiful as ever.
The old man likes it here when it’s quiet, like today, but he also enjoys the hustle and bustle on weekends, when the children come to play the game, so simple to describe yet so hard to master. It’s a pleasure to watch the children he once taught step forward to teach a new generation. To hear one of his old players quoting him to a child is a rare joy. “Play away from pressure”; “head up”; and “nice idea”; they all awaken memories of long ago.
He’s often tired these days; he can feel his spring unwinding. The aches and pains slow him a bit more month to month. He lives nearby, in his own apartment. His son or his daughter checks in on him a couple of times a week. He spends time with the grandchildren, even now he still enjoys the simple things in life, but he can feel the pull of somewhere else increasing with each passing day.
His beloved wife moved on to that someplace else a few years back. It worked out like he promised, even though he really had no say in the outcome. She would spend some time alone with her son before he would come. His close friends marveled at his demeanor when she had passed, he was always happy to reminisce about their life together, but he wasn’t sad. What they didn’t know were her last words, how she had squeezed his hand tightly and joyously whispered “He’s here” right before the light had flickered out. He never doubted for a second who “He” was. He smiled at that moment, a promise kept, and a promise made, that in a few short years he would join them.
He missed her, that wasn’t it, he just wasn’t sad. She’d taken a trip; he would follow in time, but not yet. That was all it was. He spent the next few years enjoying what he had and finding beauty wherever he could. He talked to her all the time, he didn’t know if she listened or not, he would ask her when he had the chance.
He could feel it lately, the time was close. He felt a little bad about his son and daughter, and the grandchildren; he hoped they wouldn’t be too sad when he was gone. He made a promise to himself to watch over them all if he could.
At that moment he looked up. Two hawks were circling the field, high overhead. They were descending very slowly…
As he watched them glide lower his heart felt as light as a feather. His aches and pains faded away. The sun became brighter, but no hotter. The lawnmower was gone, and the sound of waves and wind was washing over him.
And then they were there, his wife and child. She looked exactly as she had on they day they met, her smile melted his heart, the boy was older now, perhaps 45 or 50, filled out, with graying hair and a serious manner, except for the twinkle of mischief in his eye, that remained the same.
They each took a hand and led him on a path from the sea up into the mountains. A party was planned, a homecoming. There were a lot of people waiting to see the old man, who was old no longer, people he had touched, and people who had touched him; he felt unrestrained joy for the first time in many years…
An old friend found the old man later that afternoon. He stood and stared at him for quite a long time, it was clear the flame had gone out. It appeared the old man had lain himself gently, flat on the grass and folded his hands behind his head. He had a serene smile on his face, and he looked a good twenty years younger. Many people missed the old man, but there were few tears at his passing. He had died on his own terms and left a legacy of love. In the eyes of those who knew best, him he was a good man.