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The Old Man in the Cross-walk
December 31, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
I really didn’t want to stop.
Didn’t he know the unwritten rule of crossing a cross-walk anyways? You know, you are in MY right-of-way – and you are supposed to run across because you know that I am doing YOU a favor.
Except how could he do that in a walker?
Got to Go – Where?
With my foot half on the gas and on the brake, I decided to stop. Knowing this was going to take some time, I thought this would be a good time to whip off 10 text messages, change the music channel and search for something to eat on the front seat.
Well, the other drivers must have thought the same thing, because it took 3 of them before one stopped – apparently they needed to text too.
Time was really slowing down now on this unusually warm December day, so I rolled down my window.
Okay as soon as he is passed my side, I am out of here, my foot already heading for the accelerator.
Hold On – to What?
Until a small bag dropped from his walker as he hit the curb.
I rolled down the passenger window and in between my music and texts tried to yell out “U dropped it!”
Perhaps it was my broken text language mixed in with ACDC, he didn’t seem to hear me and kept on his meandering way.
There was something familiar about this old guy but I couldn’t place it.
I turned the music off and tried again. No response just his muttering “How did I get this way?” as he strolled on.
Well, no matter someone will notice he dropped something and off I went.
Who are You?
This resulted in a strange conversation between suddenly a car-full of people even though I swore I drove into town by myself. These voices all seem to start yelling at once:
You better stop and turn around!”
“Just keep going will ya, you are going to be late.”
“You know it was probably his life savings he dropped.”
“What would your mother say?”
That last one got me and I whipped into Newberry’s parking lot (okay, I am having a senior moment here – Sears – that is for you newbies…).
As I got out of the car and walked to the – crosswalk, I kept thinking about what he said “How did I get this way?”
Standing on the cross-walk, I could see the small bag on the other side and him without a care walking away.
Even the way he walked looked strangely familiar.
We Have All Been There
But I was the hunted now, not the hunter – I needed to cross. I wanted to raise a sign “Hey, I can run you know – I am an acceptable cross-walker!”
I had to wait for the next driver that needed a text message break.
“How did I get this way” I kept hearing his phrase.
Finally, across the cross-walk I ran, stopping with a great deal of anxiety for the small bag. “What if these drivers are like me and they have carefully calculated the milliseconds it will take me to cross and they already have stomped on the accelerator?”
With one eye roving both sides of me and one on the prize, I swooped up the bag and kept running like a cross-eyed hyena.
Panting, I caught up to him (when I was younger, couldn’t I run without my lungs collapsing? Oh, oh…)
“Excuse me sir, you dropped this.”
I was so proud.
What is Important?
“Oh, thank you son but it was not necessary, it was just my garbage.”
What, are you kidding me?
Suddenly, there was a fast moving kaleidoscope of all things I should be doing instead of this: get gas, shopping and I was sure a dozen text messages by now.
“But, I appreciate the kindness.”
As he spoke there was something warm and sincere in those blue eyes as if he knew all about me – or had been there once too – all caught up in the mindless busyness of the moment.
Time stopped for a moment and suddenly the busy things I had to do were not so important.
I was overcome by a compelling reason to chat for a few moments. I began by awkwardly fumbling for the right words realizing that texting may not be good for my personal skills,
“Lived here long?” I began not sure how to ask him “how DID you get here?”
“For over 40 years” came the short reply pre-occupied with the task at hand of operating the walker.
“Oh? What did you do?”
“My wife and I were in business for many years here.”
This really grabbed my attention now.
I don’t have the space here to recant my entire conversation but I finally got around to asking him what he was muttering about.
I cannot recount his exact words but it went something like this: It all goes so fast. You know change is happening but you don’t realize it is happening to you too, you just think you can keep going.
It’s the simple things in life. The effort it now takes to put on your shoes in the morning or to simply walk. That the memories he held most dear were the simple ones: the walks, the thanks from customers or that unannounced phone call from his children.
Being in business for so many years, I asked him if he had any advice. “Keep it focused and simple. There are so many distractions today; it can be easy to be lost in the moment without questioning if this really is what you should be doing.
If there was one word I can remember it was to “listen.” Things change and we need to listen to the wind of that change. The answer does not come in one gust but in the gentle breezes of each day.
Above all have a passion. I got the idea he thought that business and life has become too complicated with the unnecessary. You need to choose, focus and make a decision.
Above all to overcome your fears.
Are We at the Cross-walk?
I suddenly found myself back at the cross-walk.
I realized it was not simply a street.
It was a path to cross in making a decision.
I had to cross it and there was danger of failure coming at me from both sides of the street.
I realized I had to try because where I stood was no longer valid.
Times have changed.
We cannot run our businesses the way we used to –and that can fill you with anxiety. We need to move forward.
What Was He Really Saying?
I awoke with a start to find myself in bed and the clock striking 4:00AM. I realize it was a dream and that old stranger with the warm blue eyes and soothing voice was my father.
I have been restless lately. The last few years have not been kind to many of our Adirondack communities and businesses.
I know I have to take that leap of faith, change and innovate. It is the nature of the business beast – you cannot sit still. Perhaps the scariest thing is that nothing is certain as we live in the most uncertain of times.
Perhaps my father was telling me there was no choice but to move forward. Keep it simple with focus and that perhaps life and business is all about the simple steps to do so.
I wish you a healthy and prosperous 2013 and the courage to keep taking small steps forward. Perhaps by doing this it will help us avoid spending too much time in the rear view mirror wondering “how did WE get here” instead of where we are going.
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