The city was a busy place. Thousands of people rushing around, weaving in and out of the human traffic, never really seeing who they were passing on the street. No one spoke, no one cared, heads down, ear phones plugged in, electronics the only apparent means of communication. Sometimes I’d find a seat at my favorite cafe and just watch the scene before me. People moving as if someone turned on the fast forward switch as I stood still.
Today was one of those days I had decided to be a voyeur. Finding an empty chair on the patio of the Cafe, I ordered a bottled water and settled in for the show. The usual cast of caracters rushed by, The pinstriped suited businessman rapidly giving orders into his wireless headphones, probably to some harried secretary on the other end. The young mother trying to navigate the stroller with a crying baby in it while desperately grabbing the hand of her rambunctious three year old. The group of young teens wearing black hoodies, earbuds hanging from their ears, pants riding half way down their asses, taking up most of the sidewalk.
Changing my focus, I decided to look up at the brick apartment buildings across the street. Nothing unusual really, a few opened windows allowing in the warm breeze, curtains fluttering. A black and white cat sits in the sun leisurely grooming itself, and two windows over an elderly man sits in the window head in his hands. I have seen this man before, but today there was something different. His thinning grey hair was messy and out of place, and his sleeveless t-shirt looked stained and wrinkled, like he hadn’t changed it in a long time. But what concerned me the most was the lost and vacant look on his face. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, and the longer I looked the pull to go to him grew stronger until I could no longer sit.
Working my way across the street, I approached the doorman of the old mans building and proceeded to ask about about the man in the window. His name was Mr Overton and he and wife had lived in the building for at least thirty years, that is until about a month ago, when Mrs Overton passed on. He hadn’t left the building since. My heart felt like it was breaking in a million pieces and I knew I had to find a way to help him. Slipping the doorman a twenty, I asked if I could come back and visit Mr Overton. Taking the twenty he nodded his consent, “I will be right back”.
Stepping into the Deli next door I asked the owner if he knew Mr.Overton, and if so what he liked to eat. He did indeed know him and made for me his signature hot pastrami on rye with Swiss cheese, sourkraut, and his secret sauce. Picking out a drink I made my purchase and headed back to Mr Overtons building.
With the apartment number in hand I headed up to the second floor, found his apartment door, took a deep breath and knocked. Standing on one foot and then the other I stood waiting for a response… nothing. So I knocked again, but this time a little louder. Putting my ear to the door I heard a faint shuffling, when all the sudden the door flew open, and I jumped back, a little startled.
Standing on the other side of the door was a very annoyed Mr Overton. “What!”he snapped. Taken a little aback I replied “I’m sorry to disturb sir, but… SLAM! I backed up just before the door slammed in my face. Never one to give up I knocked again. “Please Mr Overton, I just want to help you.” Waiting a few more minutes the door opened again. Taking advantage of this new opportunity I quickly spoke “Look! I brought you your favorite sandwich. Can I please come in?” Stepping back, He allowed me to enter the apartment and I handed him his sandwich. ” Its your favorite” I told him. Taking the food from my outstretched han, he growled his thanks and sat at the table to eat. “I hope you like ice tea” I said as I handed him his drink.
Sitting in silence as he ate, I took a moment to quickly glance around the apartment. Days old dishes sat in the sink, empty cans of ravioli, soups and other assorted quick foods littered the kitchen counters. Turning to look at the living room I saw stacks of newspapers covering the coffee table in front of the tattered old couch. A layer of thick dust covered the end tables, and dust bunnies danced across the hard wood floor as the breeze came through the open window. Further into the livingroom I spotting photograph on a round table covered in a faded blue tablecloth. Standing up I turned to Mr Overton “May I? ” I asked as I pointed to the photos. Nodding his permission, I walked over to the table and began to look at Mr Overtons life. Realizing this was the perfect opportunity to open dialog I began to ask him about the people in the pictures. At first he was hesitant to answer, but as I began to tailor the question in a way that needed explaination to answer, he began to tell me about his life.
He spoke of his parents as I held the faded black and white photo of them in the tarnished silver frame. We laughed about the antics he and his brother got into as children whilst holding the picture of two young boys hanging off a tree. With each photograph came a wonderful story, sometimes happy, sometimes sad. As he shared with me the memories of his rich and fascinating life, I noticed a group of pictures he avoided talking about. In the very center of the table stood a gold filigree frame with a black and white photo of a lovely woman in what looked like her early twenties. As I reached for the picture Mr Overton grabbed it away and held it to his chest. Taken aback I apologized “I’m so sorry… I didn’t mean to upset you.” Clearing his throat he just stood stairing at the picture, his faded blue eyes filling with tears. “Is this your wife Mr Overton?” I asked ” She is lovely.”
He took a moment to pull himself together, then he began to speak. Starting from the beginning, he recounted the moment he first met his Louise, and all the years in between. It was the most romantic love story I had ever heard. They never had children, it just wasn’t meant to be, but they had each other for over Sixty five wonderful years. As he continued to share their story, his expression changed a million times, yet the love in his eyes stayed the same. After a while he went silent. Putting down the picture, he turned to me.
“Let me tell you what happened on Louises last day on this earth. It was a beautiful spring day, so we decided to go for a walk. My Louise was living on borrowed time according to her doctors. She had a brain embolism just waiting to let loose. But my Louise wasn’t a quitter, and she wanted to live as if each day was her last. She never gave any mind to the doctors so off we went on our daily walk. The elevator was out that day so we had to take the stairs. She was kinda winded when we got outside, so we sat on one of the Delis benches and rested”
“My Louise loved the Spring, new beginnings and all. So we sat and looked at the blossoming flowers and the budding trees. Holding her hand, she asked me to tell her again about our first date.. So I began to recount that warm Spring day, but I knew.. before the story was finished she silently slipped away.” Tears were slipping down my cheeks, but I stood quietly and let Mr Overton continue.
“I Didn’t know what to do” he continued “so I finished the story, and then took her in my arms. We sat that way for a long time until it became odvious that there was something wrong. But no one stopped to ask or to try and help. A few people took pictures with their phones, but no one cared. Finally a cop came by and I called out for assistance. He ran right over and called for help.” Drying the tears from his eyes he continued. ” What ever happened to humanity and kindness? My Louise always had faith in people, but not me, not any more”
My heart was breaking in a thousand pieces as I re- lived Mr Overtons last days with his wife. I couldn’t let him feel he was alone and that no one cared. I reached over and took his hand in mine, giving it a gentle squeeze. Looking at me like he was seeing me for the first time, so lost in his memories, he cleared his throat and squeezed my hand in return. “Thank you miss” he whispered. Patting my hand he looked me in the eyes. ” You know, I don’t even know your name, yet here you are. Thank you.” Still choked up I just nodded my head and smiled, I didn’t know what to say. Putting the picture of his wife back on the round table, he turned away and headed for the kitchen chair by the window. Sitting across from him, we silently stared out the window, each lost in our own private thoughts.
Without changing the direction of his stare Mr Overton began to speak again. ” You know young lady, I had a good life. God gave me struggles and hardships, but he also gave be wonderful blessings, especially my Louise. Now that she’s gone…” Reaching over I lay my hand on his arm. Turning his head he looked at me . ” Young lady, would you be willing to take an old man for a walk on a warm spring day?” Jumping for a chance to do something, anything for this dear man, I immediately agreed. Grabbing his light weight jacket, I helped him slip it on and we headed out the door. After a short ride on the elevator, a tucked his hand in the crook of my arm and we began our walk.
The sun was warm and there was a gentle breeze as we slowly worked our way to the park. The trees now had their new spring leaves and the flowers were in bloom, Daffidil’s , tulips and hydrangeas, among others. Every so often Mr Overton would point out a paricular flower, or a special memory that he and his Louise shared from the many times they took this very same walk over the years. Spotting the park bench across from the pond, we sat down and watched a pair of swans with their babies glide across the water. Mr Overton seemed very quiet, so taking his hand I softly asked if he was ok. But just kept staring in the distance, his eyes seeing something that I couldn’t. “Mr Overton?” I repeated. “Louise…” he whispered. Reaching out his hand as if to take hers, a warm glow emenated from his body as his arm slowly dropped, and he slumped down on the bench.
“Mr Overton!” I cried out shaking him gently. “Mr Overton?” Not knowing what to do next, I just sat there for a moment, knowing in my heart he was gone, his Louise came to get him. Tears flowed steadily down my cheeks as I mourned my new friend, but at the same time rejoiced at his reunion with his one and only love. Taking my phone out of my pocket, I dialed 911, then sat back and waited. Feeling a little numb, I closed my eyes. I must of fallen asleep because there standing before me was Mr Overton and his Louise, holding hands and exuding such warmth and love.
“Thank you Young lady for your kindness. You restored the faith of humanity in a grumpy old man.” Looking over at his wife with undeniable love, they softly smiled at each other, then turned back to me. “In my apartment is a black box I have hidden under the photo table. The key to the box is behind the picture of Louise. Take the box and it’s contents as a small token of my appreciation.” And with that being said, they faded away from sight.
Feeling a gentle shake on my shoulder, I opened my eyes to see the police and the EMS people working on Mr Overton.
“Are you alright miss ?” The officer inquired. “Yes sir” I answered. About an hour latter, with questions finished, and Mr Overtons body taken away, I slowly made my way back to his apartment. Letting myself in I stood in the doorway for a moment, feeling like an intruder on sacred ground. Walking to the picture table, I got down on the floor and lifted the blue table cloth. Just where Mr Overton said it would be was the black metal box. Reaching for it I slid it out from under the table and held it in my lap. Standing, I placed the box on the couch and reached for the picture of Louise. Opening up the back of the frame, I removed the key that was taped to the inside, then carefully put the frame back together. Dropping the key into my pants pocket, I found a plastic bag and placed the box inside. Locking up the apartment door, I briefly filled in the doorman as to the recent events and handed him the apartment keys.
That night , sitting alone in my darkened apartment, I went over in my head the days events. Such a strange day I kept thinking, wondering if wasn’t just a very vivid dream. But, there on my coffee table sat the black metal box and a small key in my pocket. I somehow knew that whatever was in that box, once revealed would change my life forever. But I wasn’t ready quite yet.. my life had been changed enough for one day. And if nothing else, I learned something that I’d never forget.
People and life aren’t meant to just be looked at and observed. We are meant to interact and share, love and learn. Everyone has a story, with lessons to share and lessons to learn.
Love is eternal, and once given never really goes away as it continues to go around and around, passing from person to person, paying it forward, over and over again. And all it takes to start the cycle of love is simply a smile, a kind word, a selfless deed for someone in need, a hug.
Reguardless of how things may seem now, I truly believe in humanity, in love… one kindness at a time.