Walking at Dusk

There’s an elderly gentleman that occasionally sits in a garage in the bottom of my apartment building. He just sort of watches people come and go, observing, nodding hello in a typical Southern way when you speak to him in passing. I think he’s the father or grandfather of a guy who lives elsewhere in the building. This elderly gentleman invokes that curious sort of sympathy that one tends to feel when seeing someone who’s entire life seems to us to be comprised of sitting and watching people go by, perhaps remembering a time when they could engage, but finding themselves unable to do so now.

I worked the evening shift at my last job, and always used the same street to get there. Two or three days a week I would drive a few blocks down that street around 2:00 in the afternoon, and there was this guy who was almost always sitting in a folding lawn chair in what I presumed to be his lawn, watching the traffic go by. He was old, but not that old. I always wondered if he was disabled, or perhaps suffering from some sort of psychiatric condition. He always seemed so separated from those of us with places to be.

There have been several such people that I’ve seen during various commutes and living arrangements in my life. They always leave an impression on my mind in some form or another. Those around us invariably do, I suppose.

I’ve been trying to make a habit of taking a walk in the evenings while weather permits, just to get away from computer screens, clear my head, and get some of the fresh air that all of us get far too little of. This evening there was an older gentleman (I don’t think its the same guy who is always sitting in the garage downstairs) walking with a guy that was my age. I couldn’t see them well, as it was just a bit past dusk, but they smiled and nodded in that Southern politeness that is part of the culture in the American Southeast as they kept moving past.

Perhaps it was because I saw them at dusk tonight, at a time when I was trying to focus on things other than day-to-day stresses and material stuff, in what the Celts would call a “thin place,” that I thought of these other people I’ve seen. I’m not sure why I find myself considering them…I don’t have any amazingly profound truth to draw out of painting verbal portraits of them, although I have a close friend that, when speaking of poetry, says that capturing the moment is profound enough in itself. I just know that it really makes me want to be present for my father, who has always been there for me, when he nears the end of his life. I don’t want him (or my mother for that matter) do be sitting alone in a folding lawn chair watching traffic go by, wishing to engage with someone at a deeper level than “hello.” I want to be able to take a walk with him, or even let him sit in my garage if he wanted to watch the people go by (although I don’t have a garage, but…)

The funny thing is that my father would probably do just that because he has always been a people watcher. I would always see him peeking through the curtains when he heard neighbors or people walking down the street, always curious, always observant. I inherited that from him, because I find myself observant in the same ways, always fascinated by people. That’s likely part of the draw to both writing and psychology for me, because I’m always fascinated by the human experience.

And, ultimately, I suppose that’s what seeing these people through the course of my life has been: an encounter with the human experience, poignant at its worst, evoking laughter at its best. I’m sure there will be other people on other commutes in other places that I live. If nothing else, I hope they remind me of the importance of each other. If I’m really fortunate, they will give inspiration and teach me, as well.

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