Sitting on a Flaking Green Bench

If, while we traipse through the youth and the middle years, we do not discover whatever time will bestow on us in old age, then we will never discover it. Age only gives us the ability to articulate.
The pigeons scurry away from me with an indignantly resigned clatter and I proceed to that old bench, still rusty, still trite, but this time incomparably precious as well. Away on the other side of the piazza, a lonely young man plays the clarinet. On the ground beside him, a weathered brown hat gathers dust and spare change. I ease over my cane to plop onto bench’s peeling green paint, and release a small sigh.
Has time bestowed anything on me?
The scene before me reels with nostalgia, and I can still see that very small girl imagine herself to be quite grown up. She twirls among the pigeons, and then she strides along the piazza, arms full of books. It’s not uncommon for us to look back on ourselves and chuckle at our faults and follies. It is the reason I keep a diary. But, I can assure you, that girl on the piazza took herself very seriously.
The clarinet player pauses on a note—just long enough for me, an avid follower of these things, to realize he doesn’t know what note is meant to come next. His sheet music scuttles along the cobblestones, driven by an errant breeze. He holds that pause, trying to make it sound artistic and while gathering his wits. Then, with a deep breath, he chooses another note, and the two tones hold together in the air, dangling above him with promise.
What is greatness? To change yourself? See a change in the world? To be strong enough to grasp onto the things you know that you shouldn’t—or to be strong enough to let go of the things you should?
I sigh. People begin to emerge from their beds in a slow crescendo. Businessmen with coffee cups stride off to their offices; tourists gather, each hoping to get ahead of the others, but in the end, still bunching into clusters of foreign ethnicity. A girl shuffles across the piazza, still in evening clothes, carrying a sleeping bag. She has dark circles under her eyes, but her gait speaks of deep contentment. A garbage collector, just off from the morning shift, pauses to drop change into the clarinet player’s hat.
Has any of it really happened yet? Am I sitting on this bench for the first time, waiting for a blithe wind to carry me off? I see, a thousand moments in one, the sum of everything I have done, and everything I have yet to do. I sit on this bench for the first time, again. I feel the tug of tomfoolery, and hear a whistle in the distance. I am old—but not dead, yet. I am not ready to be at peace with the world.
Leaning on the cane once again, I creak to my feet and re-evaluate the piazza. It swarms with life now—a magician opens a show with a bang! And the apparition of a snow white rabbit. Bystanders cheer. They’ve seen the same show in every city, in every country, but this show is right now, so it’s the best they’ve ever seen.
The cobblestones greet me as I walk across them, murmuring encouragement as I thread through the wavering crowd. I reach the edge of the street, and look back on the bench with the peeling green paint. It sits patiently. The clarinet player has gone, but his sheet music still flutters across the stones.

Sitting on a Flaking Green Bench


Joined January 2008

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