I feel a bit off-kilter, out of whack and completely scattered today. I am having a hard time regaining my equilibrium and focus. Today I had a meeting with my writing friend, Julie. Normally I leave my meetings with Julie pumped up and ready to rule the world of words. But that didn’t happen today. Today, my thoughts are straying to an old man who touched us both.
I think both of us look forward to our writing meetings. It’s a safe place to talk goals, books, dreams, affirmations and ways to improve our writing. We always go to the same place. It’s an artsy, little place in the heart of an artsy, little part of Richmond. I love the effect Can Can in Carytown has on me. It makes me feel alive, vibrant and part of something much bigger than I am. It makes me feel like I can be a part of an artsy world with people who are lined up to read my words. It’s a place where Julie and I connect with an esoteric feeling when we talk about our writing.
Today’s meeting started off the exact same way it always does. With me flying in the door and my thoughts all a jumble to find Julie peacefully seated at a table with her tea and her fruit and yogurt parfait. I plopped my things down at our table. With my tea and bagel ordered from the coffee bar, I finally settle in to talk. As I sat down today, it dawned on me that we have been going to Can Can every week for at least three months. I wondered, in my head, if anyone working there realized our regularity in the little bistro on the corner. My tea and bagel were brought to me and it was then I knew that we have not yet been classified as regulars. The waitress put my tea and bagel in front of me and left with a scant acknowledgment of either of us…the same as all the other times we have been there.
As our meeting progressed and we got further into the meat of the meeting, I saw an old man walking up slowly, painfully in front of the windows where we sat. His gait was that of a man who struggles with each step, slightly shuffling one foot in front of the other. His cane steadied him as he made his way closer and closer to the door. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He seemed so alone and vulnerable. His camel colored coat was threadbare. His hands were gnarled around the top of his cane and the color of his face was ashen. Something about him kept me glued to him. I couldn’t focus on anything else. As he passed my chair at the bank of windows where we sat, I saw his hand reach for the wall. At that point, he became the focus of Julie’s world as well.
Julie watched him as he grasped the side of the building. She saw him as he entered the restaurant. She tried hard not to focus on him but it was a losing battle for both of us. As he made his way past me, I took in the rest of his appearance. His gait seemed forced and it was then I realized he was wearing shoes that seemed far too big for his feet. I watched him as he continued on past me and I saw the price sticker on the back of his left foot. It was the type of sticker you would see on clothing from the Goodwill store. And my heart constricted just a little for this man.
He made his way to the coffee counter where I kept watching, wanting to make sure he got something to eat or drink. When I saw a large cup of coffee in front of him I relaxed a little, knowing he had something warm in his hands. I watched as he made his way to the newspaper rack and picked out a paper to read. My guard went down even further as he walked back to his barstool. In my mind, now, he would be OK.
How wrong I was.
Julie whispered to me, in a small voice, that he was on the floor. She didn’t know what happened. She didn’t see him fall off of the stool. All Julie knew was that he was lying on his back in the middle of the restaurant.
And my heart constricted a little more. You see, as he walked in and I watched him I imagined he would be what my father would be if he hadn’t gotten sober and he didn’t have my mom or any family. He could easily be the man wearing the too big shoes with the Goodwill price sticker still on the back, sitting at a counter, reading a newspaper and quietly slipping to the ground, alone.
I’m not trying to say that this man is an alcoholic or alone…I have no idea who or what he is. All I do know is he reminded me of my what my father could be….a quiet man who could easily fall through the cracks if he didn’t have my mom watching out for him and over him.
Julie and I watched as the staff called for an ambulance. We watched the other customers stay by his side, trying to keep the man who fell off his stool comfortable. We watched the manager make small talk with him. We watched the paramedics load him onto the stretcher. We listened as the entire wait staff said “good bye” and “see you tomorrow.” And then we knew ~ he is a regular at Can Can. It was then we both realized how much we both wanted to be regulars so we could ask about him, ask about which hospital he was going to, ask who is, ask if he’s ok or if he’s alone. We wanted to be considered regulars so we could make sure the man with the threadbare coat and ashen skin would be OK.
Julie and I stayed put at our table far longer than is usual. Neither one of us was willing to leave before we saw he was loaded into the ambulance and transported to the nearest hospital. We both wished the same wish, that there would be someone on the other end of the ambulance waiting for him ~ someone from his family who loves and cares for this man.
My heart hurts a little for a man I know nothing about but wish nothing but the best for. He has stayed with me all day, keeping me a little off kilter and scattered, wondering how he is. I hope he knows he has touched two souls today. Two people, who before today, were unaware of this little old man but now send nothing but good wishes his way. My biggest wish for him is that he has what I am so very grateful for…family and love.
Oh, for the love of my children…