The other Saturday, I grabbed my phone, my earbuds and my walking shoes. Time to pound the pavement, get a little exercise and catch up on an hour or so of podcasts, all in one. I trotted out the door and down the street, trying to quickly decide what my route would be today.
I quickly settled on ambling down Broad Street all the way to the cemetery at the end, then come up towards the waterway and backtrack through town, walking along the waterfront. With the gameplan decided, I paced myself into a comfortably brisk walk and began enjoying the podcast du jour.
As I walked along, I noticed a car pull up to the curb about a block in front of me, and an elderly man stepped out. He stood on the sidewalk, just staring at the corner house. After a minute, he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and began blowing his nose. As I approached, I saw him glance in my direction. Once I got close, I gave him a friendly smile and planned on walking past, but he stepped forward and tentatively held his hand out towards me. I stopped, still smiling, and removed my earbuds.
“Can I share something with you?” His voice was shaky, and he was looking at me in a quiet earnest. I looked into his face and as I replied, “Of course”, I realized that he had not been blowing his nose, he had been fighting back tears.
“This house right here is not the original house on this property. The original house was moved years ago and this house was built in its place. Sixty-nine years ago today, I walked into that original house and I proposed to my future wife. Here’s a picture of how beautiful she was in her prime.” At this point he brought out his wallet and showed me two photos, one taken probably about fifty years ago and one that looked like it was taken within the last few years. Under the photos, the was a piece of paper taped to the wallet that simply said “My Jewel”. I studied the pictures and decided that, yes, she was very pretty and she reminded me a little of my own grandmother.
“She’s not with me anymore” he went on. “She got the cancer a few years ago, and the cancer stayed on earth, but she went on up to heaven. My sweet Jewel is in heaven now, but this is where I asked her to spend her life with me all those years ago and she said yes.”
At this point, he was openly crying and tried to catch himself and hide his face. I was tearing up for him and did the only thing I knew to do at that point. I gave him a hug.
After a minute, he pulled himself back together and looked at me and smiled. “Thanks for that hug. I really needed that.”
I smiled back and we talked a few more minutes, just idle chat. As the conversation wound down and I was certain he was alright, I wished him a good day, and continued on my walk, hearing the podcast through my earbuds, but not listening at all.
I was still thinking of that old man, who was trying get on with his life without his life partner of sixty nine years, who just needed let someone else know how much she had meant to him. I’m glad I was able to be there to give him that hug.