June 10, 2009; 3.30 pm
When my brain shuts down after six hours thinking into the computer; I go for a walk in my neighborhood. It usually revives my flagging energy and something–or somebody–always happens.
Not surprising, since I have lived here for over two decades. And today, a muggy warm one rife with air pollution from fires burning near Lilloett, was no different: the first thing that happened was a narrow miss from a cyclist whizzing past me on the narrow sidewalk at a furious pace, with only inches to spare. Had I moved only slightly in his direction, there would have been a collision.
“I’ll fix your wagon; you just wait,” I muttered angrily. Normally I would have shouted at him, but today I was relatively serene in my knowledge that I had written our good Mayor, Gregor Robinson, about this very problem, and offered to be part of a group representing the interests of pedestrians to city hall. There. I haven’t done anything yet, and worse, have never been involved in something like this, but my intentions are real; my aim true.
Wide awake now, I walked to a little park and playground near a seniors’ facility on 14th Avenue, looking for a bench so I could read the latest issue of the magazine published by the Writers Union of Canada. I found the bench and as soon as I began reading, a realized that a very old man was standing behind the bench, just kind of holding on. I looked up: he was tall, whitehaired, and quite distinguished looking. Very slowly, he came around to the front of the bench and sat down heavily.
I continued to read; the sun hot on my face and arms. There was a pause, and I knew he was going to chat me up, as we used to call it.
“Isn’t it amazing how soon small children can climb up on this equipment; that little girl is so young, but just look at her,” he said, smiling and commenting on a tiny toddler in a pink and white frock, clambering around. I managed a strangled ummm, and continued to read. He continued to watch the little girl. Then I got up and went home, only a few minutes away.
And I felt awful. I had ignored a man who was old and probably just looking for some human contact, maybe bored and possibly lonely. What was so important in that magazine that I couldn’t spare him a few words? I hope that when I get to be that old, I will find someone who will exchange a few words with me on a park bench. But then it hit me: that wild cyclist, the old man and I–we were all part of this community, but we weren’t communicating. Only the old man had made an effort to connect. There’s a lesson here, something about paying attention, having respect and awareness. That cyclist and I; we both failed that test.