Walking. With the Silent Generation.

I counted him out yesterday morning. There was light drizzle from 5:00 am to 6:20 am, and it continued for my entire 5 mile loop around Cove Island Park. But he didn’t disappoint. There he was.

We intersect most mornings.

Never met him. Don’t know him. Never spoken a word to him.

But I imagine his life.

He’s a member of the Silent Generation, following his Parents, who were members of the Greatest Generation who survived the Great Depression. Waste not. Want not. Sacrifice. Freedom. God. Country. (I’m consciously leaving out ‘Guns’.)

He didn’t come from the Privileged. He was drafted, he didn’t seek medical deferment, he fought in the Vietnam War. Memories haunt, Demons always in pursuit. Jennifer Pastiloff’s: “Get out of your head. It’s a bad neighborhood.”  So he walks.

There’s no Apple Watch tracking his steps. No iPhone pumping in music or books on tape.  Nothing to shake that gnawing, that scraping…

There are two flags that hang on his house; they are worn, the whites have long lost their sheen.  They don’t just make their appearance on July 4th, they hang 365 days a year.

The homes around him, one by one, are torn down, rebuilt, taller, larger, and fill with young families fleeing Manhattan. Property values have soared, his taxes have followed upward, and now pinch. He could flee to Florida, land of no State income tax, but that has never crossed his mind. He was born here, and will die here, his home town.  He completes his own tax returns, reports his modest pensioner’s income and pays all of his taxes, because that is what has to be done.

The curtains are always drawn. He’s a Widower, married for 40 years, and then lost Her to Cancer.  No one to open the drapes.  No dog to keep him company. No cat to nestle next to his feet, purring, as he watches The Evening News. Income is tight, he can’t afford the expense. He misses his Wife.

The lawn is cut, never shaggy. A fence, freshly painted brown, provides token separation from the neighbors, with toys strewn all over their front yard.

His Story may be entirely different. But it’s what I see. What I need to see.

Yet, what doesn’t require imagining, is this.

I’ve come to look for him each morning. I round the turn to walk up Anthony Lane and there he is.

No matter how far up the street I am, he looks for me, and always throws up his hand to wave Hello.

Because that’s what he was taught.  And that’s what he Believes. Character. Honesty. Decency. Be a good neighbor.

Some day, I’ll either tire of this same morning walk, or he won’t be there. One, or the other.

And, I’ll miss him.


Notes:

  • Photo: DK, Saturday, Aug 30, 2020
  • Inspired by: “If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.” — David Foster Wallace, from “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace” by David Lipsky (Broadway, April 13, 2010)
  • Inspired by: “We may be in the middle of a story we don’t know how will end, or even whether it will end, but we are not helpless characters created and directed by an unseen novelist. We have the power, even in this Age of Anxiety, to enfold ourselves in small comforts, in the joy of tiny pleasures. We can walk out into the dark and look up at the sky. We can remind ourselves that the universe is so much bigger than this fretful, feverish world, and it is still expanding. And still filled with stars. —  Margaret Renkl, “A Reminder to Enfold Yourself in Small Comforts” (NY Times, August 24, 2020)

Comments

  1. You must meet him, David. He looks for you and you look for him. You wave at each other. It’s the next logical step. Who knows what may come just from that?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. But if you do as roseanne suggests, and you meet him and get to know him, your imaginary life story for him will be blown out of the water, and you’ll have to readjust who you thought he was. Then again, maybe it’s worth it. Or maybe you’ll be disappointed. I like the anticipation of looking for him. And yes, one day he won’t be there, or you’ll stop going there. Another vignette of life to store away.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Talk to him!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary Ann Gessner says:

    Watch this gentle movie. You might be tempted to move from a wave to a Hello and another story.

    Consider this a wave…I look for you, too. MA

    >

    Liked by 2 people

  5. He is as much a part of the landscape as the water, trees,swans and geese that you encounter each and every day. He has accepted you as a part of his daily view and waves to acknowledge that and to make you known you are seen, accepted, and appreciated. Perhaps a wave is all he can muster right now and feel safe. If and when you sense he is ready for more, or see some sign from him. You could reach out and share each other’s stories. I wonder what he thinks your story is?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love your acknowledgement, the reverence you feel for this man, and the story that has built around him with the daily routine of your meetings. Makes me wonder what story he is writing about you.

    Beautiful reflection, David.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Not crying…
    No!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I like what the others have said…I wonder if he might have been widowed, too… in the past year and him walking his driveway to a point of intersect , maybe the highlight of his day…maybe he is trying to save up the memories of his last Connecticut summer, before he moves either to Florida, to an Assisted Living or hopefully, if he has children moving in with one of them in a far away state…You have such an opportunity to mutually enrich each others lives! Perhaps you could printed an image of one of your wonderful photos of the “Cove” and gift it to him…Take the step of opportunity…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Or maybe you’ll strike up a conversation…?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Fascinating ruminations, pal. As others have noted, would be interesting to know what story he has concocted for you. I think it’s fascinating to consider the stories we graft onto those we don’t know, for better or for ill. It seems you need to see someone who is strong, honest and decent, and boy do I understand THAT. Maybe you two will actually talk one day, and maybe you won’t. I know whatever happens will be the right outcome. And I am dying to watch that movie….

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I haven’t read the many comments so maybe I’ll double an opinion or three…. We are in these unusual lock-down months the great joy of mostly eating all our meals outside on our patio. Every single day, an elderly man, very slim, sprightly in appearance but head always towards the floor, in the heat wearing a straw hat, shorts, walking sneakers and two sticks for Nordic Walking…. He never (dared?) looks at me and one lunch time I said to HH: Next time he passes us by, I’ll just holler a Hello AND wave at him….. The very same day my neighbour came over to ask something from me and I told her the ‘lonely man walking’ story with ‘what I planned to do’…. She laughed and said: I did the same as you and now, when I’m outside (rarely), we wave at each other and he gives me a smile…..
    Well, you know well what’s coming, don’t you!? The next day, I called out to him, waved and gave him a big smile and a friendly Good Morning. Have a great walk – He was literally blooming like a flower – and from that day on we greet each other.
    I suggest you’ll do the same – in fact I find it hard to believe that you prefer making up a story instead of ‘meeting’ that man and learn the basics of his life. It’s not about exchanging your life stories, it’s not snooping, it’s called solicitousness, human care, sympathy(?). You can only ever be not friendly enough, never too friendly. But of course, you’re in a different environment, so you might see it differently. I’m just a great believer in a smile, a word of encouragement and an invite to share a cup of coffee, tea or a glass of wine. And sorry for this half-novel. I’m making up for the lost last days!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. wonderful post, David. I hope you get a chance to meet him so that you can both satisfy the curiosity that you both likely have of each other. What are the odds he could be a former hockey player from Canada? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Interesting post. Maybe he is just satisfied with that, hello, and his routine walk. You have a very imaginative mind and you will definitely miss him.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So true. So touching.
    Thank you, David.
    Vicky

    Liked by 1 person

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