I have a story to tell. . .
Recently, an old man found himself sitting next to a little boy on a bench in the park. The bench sits along a sidewalk that runs through the park, leading from the play area, along a creek and to a small duck pond. In the old man’s hands are a paper bag and an old wooden cane, the handle worn and shiny, as though it had seen as many years as the man.It was a sunny fall day, early enough in the season for the majority of the leaves to still be on the trees. The sun was shining brightly, but the warmth that it’s rays provided were minimal compared to what it had been just a few weeks earlier. The little boy was staring off towards the west, not looking at anything in particular, but with a pained look on his face. Nearby the sounds of laughter from other little children could be heard as they played on the swings and the slide on the playground, but the little boy paid them no mind. The old man, who had been scattering bread crumbs on the sidewalk to a small handful of pigeons that lingered around the bench, sat down the brown paper bag that he had been holding and turned to face the boy.
“Hello,” he said, trying his best to smile and look friendly. The boy seemed not to hear for the briefest of moments, but then turned his head suddenly and looked up at the old man with wide eyes. It seemed to the old man as if the boy had been startled.
“Hi,” said the boy, his voice sounding unsteady.
“How come you aren’t over at playground, playing with all the other kids your age?” asked the old man in a warm voice, “I would be over there playing right now myself, if this old body could handle it.”
“I don’t feel like playing today,” replied the boy, turning his head to let his gaze return west, “It’s getting late.”
The old man thought about this for a moment. It was only a little after 1 pm in the afternoon, certainly plenty early in the day by most people’s standards, especially for a lazy Sunday like this one. “Your family must have supper quite early, if 1 o’clock is late for you, is that so?”
“No,” answered the boy in a distracted voice, “We won’t be having supper for awhile. That’s not why it is late.”
“I see,” said the old man, suddenly feeling awkward and unsure of how to interact with this quiet boy. The man sat there, playing with his cane, so as not to feel anxious.
“Don’t you worry about the day ending?” asked the boy all of a sudden, turning again to look at the old man. “I don’t feel like playing when I know that in a couple of hours the sun will set and the playground will be cold and dark and empty.”
“How silly,” chuckled the old man, “that’s no reason why a boy your age should miss out on playing on the swings or going down the slide.”
“It’s not silly!” shouted the boy, “I’m scared of the sun setting and of the dark. I don’t know what is there in the dark and I worry that the sun won’t ever come back out. I don’t want to play on the swings when I am scared.”
“Come now, the night is not a thing to be scared of, it is a natural and normal part of each day.”
“I don’t like it. During the day I can see everything and I know what is going on, but at night, everything is dark and looks different. My mommy and daddy tell me that I don’t need to be scared of the dark, that only little babies are scared of it. I don’t want to be a baby, I want to be older, I don’t want to be scared.”
The old man let out a quick, warm laugh, “You want to be older? Here I am wishing I was younger again.”
“Well I don’t want to be as old as you, I just want to be old enough to not be so scared of something so silly.”
“Come now, it’s not silly and it’s okay to be scared. I’ll let you in on a little secret. . .”
“I’m scared of the dark too. I’ve lived a long and happy life, but the sun is setting on my time and I don’t know what to expect once it’s down.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the sunset. You’re not scared of the sunset are you?”
“Of course! It’s the worst part! The sunset reminds me that the day is ending and that the darkness is coming, why would I not be scared of the sunset? The SUN is SETTING! Didn’t you listen to ANYTHING I just said?”
“Yes, yes, I was listening,” said the old man softly, “Let me tell you something that I heard about sunsets.”
“Is it scary?”
“No, I don’t think so”
“Um. . .okay then.”
And so the old man began. . .
As I said, I am in the sunset of my life and I don’t know what to expect when night falls. When I was your age, though, I had a grandmother, a very old and very wise grandmother. She liked to tell people that she viewed a lifetime as the course of a single day. When we are born, it is as if it is still morning. Morning so early that the sky is still dark and many things are blurry and unclear. As you grow older, the sun begins to show it’s light around the edges of the horizon and slowly, things take shape. This is a time in the day when you are just getting up and beginning the preparations for your day. This is a time when you are thinking about what you will accomplish during the day and considering where you will go and who you will see. As the sun continues it’s rise, light is shed on all of the world around you, showing you, finally, all that makes up everything around you. Eventually, after whatever preparations you must make, you decide that it is time to leave your home, your house, the place where you were raised and venture out into the world. This is a time in the day when your mind is still preoccupied with the future and what is to come. A time when many of the things that will come to pass throughout the day are still undecided. However, before you know it, your path is set infront of you and you are on your way. At this point, all of your thoughts and meditations on the future begin to transform from abstract ideas and dreams into tangible things and events. Along the way, you will find yourself wishing that the day was over and that evening was upon you, so that you could finally lay down your weary body and rest. Fear not, for the evening shall be upon you before you know it, and when the day does begin to slow down and you stop to take a breath, you will feel good knowing that you did all that you could during the day. And, no matter what comes to pass during the day, I can promise you one thing: the sunset will so beautiful and the ensuing calm and relaxation that begins to take over your body so wonderful that the oncoming night will be welcomed with a warm smile and a happy heart. Besides, if the human body was meant to make it through more than what one day offers, night wouldn’t come when it does.
The old man ceased his talking and sat there on the bench, unmoving. The boy cocked his head to the side and knit his brow. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Thanks for trying to help, but I’m going to go play now, it’s not as late as I thought.” With that he jumped off the bench and ran towards the playground, a smile breaking across his face.
The old man sat there for a long time after the boy left, still unmoving. Finally, he picked up his brown paper bag and smiled to himself. “No, it’s so much earlier than you know.”
The sun continued it’s path towards the West, moving towards the horizon, the daylight slowly, almost imperceptibly fading. And somewhere else, in another land filled with different people, the fingers of morning’s first light were just beginning to show in the East.