Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The Listening Wall
I never knew his name. I never knew where he lived. But for eight years, I watched him stand by a vine-covered, stone wall giving magnificent orations. I don’t know how long he spoke each day, but he was intensely dedicated. Rain or shine, hot or cold, he shared his thoughts.
His hands moved eloquently, with fierce determination as he expressed his ideas. Passersby never affected his concentration—I was amazed by how completely he shut out the world around him. He always dressed neatly, his hair trimmed, and I wondered where the important people in his life were.
His wall was on my route home—I watched for him daily. Over time, I looked forward to seeing him—he was part of my life, in a strange sort of way. He also became part of my children’s lives—M talked about him constantly, full of curiosity about a man who spent so much time public speaking.
There are apartments near the wall, there’s also a retirement community. Instinct told me that he didn’t live alone—concern made me wonder who kept an eye on him…an elderly man standing beside a busy road, speaking intensely, passionately…and completely alone.
We were surprised when he quit appearing in the fall and found ourselves searching for him when we passed the wall. I worried about H1N1, wondering if he was ill. As the weeks passed, I decided that age must have made him succumb to the cold, wet winter—I assured myself that he would be back in the spring.
But still, I worried, and I knew in my heart that something had changed. The first day of spring came and went weeks ago…he’s never reappeared.
I feel sadness when I pass the wall and wish I’d taken time to hear his words. I think he must have been well-read—I could tell he was well-spoken. Who knows what he was sharing or what memories played over and over in his mind. Did his family listen to his thoughts, did anyone record them? Will the words that meant so much to him live on in perpetuity?
M and I talked about him the other day, each of us missing his presence. As we spoke, I realized that we may not have known his name or where he lived, but he’s someone we’ll never forget. Through us, part of his life retains importance, and maybe that’s all any of us can hope for…to be remembered in bits and pieces…by those we know well and those we affect without ever knowing at all.