He shuffled slowly along the sidewalk, stoop shouldered, holding tightly to his walker. He had tried to comb his hair, but some of it had resisted going into place. His shirttail was more untucked than tucked, but I could tell that this was a man who, at one time, had taken great care with his appearance. He had an air of gentle dignity about him, but he also seemed confused and disoriented. He wasn’t frowning, exactly, but his face was clouded with something. Sadness, maybe or boredom or wistfulness.
He was moving south along the Biltmore Avenue sidewalk, down from Pack Square, and nearly in front of Marble Slab Creamery. A little girl came darting out of the ice cream store; and, before either she or he knew what was happening, she jolted into his walker. Even thought the bump knocked her off her feet, it didn’t hurt her, and scrambled quickly back up. And, thankfully, the jolt only unsteadied the old man. He managed to stay on his feet.
The little girl, standing in front of the man, looked into his eyes. She was a little afraid of what he might say or do. I was a little anxious, too, on her behalf. A bright, broad smile spread across his face, and, though he didn’t say a word, his smile said everything the little girl needed to hear. She ran back toward her mother. The old man stood still, watching her run and, as he did, his big smile became a gentle laugh.
After just a bit, he started shuffling along again, but his shoulders weren’t quite as stooped and his pace wasn’t quite as slow. What was it, I wondered, about having a little girl bump into him that made him smile and put energy back in his step? Did he remember fondly a daughter or granddaughter he loved ? Was he carried back to own days of running and playing on the sidewalk or in a field?
I am not sure; I simply know that grace bumped into him in the shape of a little girl. And I know that, whatever our ages, we sometimes find ourselves shuffling along, shoulder-stooped and back-bent, slowed by the weight of too much, and leaning on whatever we can to stay on our feet. And, then God darts across our path and jostles us into surprising joy.