He sat slumped in a cushioned chair in the library. One arm extended on the arm rest with the hand relaxed over the edge. The other hand, holding a tissue, was on his lap. Neck arched back—his head rested on top of the back cushion. His watery eyes, which stared directly at the ceiling, were looking beyond the ceiling. His physical being was in the library, but he was far removed.
I had come to work on a humorous story—to find a quiet, secluded spot to let my imagination run free. Funny how within the confines of your head, just how far a thought can travel. Most of the time you have complete control of its whereabouts, while other times a thought can wander off, but then reappear more inspiring than when it had left. I guess what intrigues me most about imagination is the never knowing of how a thought ever arrived, and what creative path it will eventually take. But on this particular day, my imagination hit a road block. Humorous creativity wasn’t flowing. Instead, I had found something else—a curiosity about the man in the chair.
At times he took deep breaths, followed by slow exhalations as he simultaneously closed his eyes. These were the moments he would lightly rock his head side to side. But for the majority of the time that I watched him, his eyes were open, fixated on something—something that only he could see. Perhaps something that he wished wasn’t there—a regret, a mistake, or possibly a loss.
I wanted to lean towards him and say, “Whatever it is, it’ll get better.” I wanted to assure him that happier days lie ahead. I didn’t know this man, but I wanted to guide him in a better direction.
I also didn’t want to say a word. I didn’t want to engage. I didn’t want to make any eye contact. I wanted him to save himself. Don’t initiate. You know nothing about this man. He carries baggage you have no knowledge of. Write your humorous story, and stay distant.
But the tears—the moist tissue in his hand—I could not ignore them. He was struggling. Back and forth, I weighed the pros and cons of whether or not to talk with him. There’s a story here. There’s emotion. And there’s a man in need.
I’ve always said that anyone’s deepest struggle is just one conversation away from being rescued. All I needed to do was reach out and give him a listening ear or some helpful words of advice. And if my advice might fall short of its intention, then at least I’d have given him some conversation, which, on its own, would be therapeutic.
For nearly an hour my mind traveled, running the gamut of just what possibly could be wrong. Oddly, it was almost as if I was getting to know him—that I was beginning to understand whatever it was I didn’t know. Look at someone long enough, and sometimes you begin to wonder if, in fact, you’ve met that person before.
My time was up. I had to leave the library. I collected my belongings and made my way for the door. I had come to write a humorous story, but had written nothing. Instead, I walked away, only to be inspired by a thought a week later…
I wrote a story about a man I never talked to.
Copyright Ros Hill 2017