Monday, July 17, 2006

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The other half of the bench, when I sat down, was already occupied by a man on the declining side of aging. His near cheek was mapped with broken blood vessels, his baseball cap sweat stained all around where it snugged to his head.
As is the custom at the bus stop, we chatted idly about Metro transit's inability to be on time. He told me that he had been waiting for twenty-five minutes and that it wasn't so much that he had somewhere to be, it was only that, when you get to be his age, you find yourself tiring of waiting because no one wants to die preparing to be in transit. He couldn't move quickly, I should notice, but he could still move.

He volleyed questions at me, about where I was going and where I had been and what I was reading. Every few moments his hand would pass itself across his eyes, as though it was moving on its own, checking to make sure he was still seeing. I was glad to talk with him, glad for a connection that was uncomplicated and fleeting but deeply satisfying, a conversation like a soft chair after a long walk. He tossed a few chestnuts at me, something about the best apples being the hardest to get to, and something else about the people that are willing to climb for them being the people that deserve to have the apples.

I told him that I had been thinking, lately, of the rerum concordia discors, the discordant concord of things--something I first read about many years ago in Nietzsche and then, in college, came across in Horace. I told him I'd been fighting both for and against and that I couldn't figure out if the way to harmony was to stop fighting in either direction or to keep going. He nodded, understanding my struggle at a glance, and laid a hand on my arm. The skin of his fingers was so soft it was almost not there at all, his fingerprints worn off, his pulse light. We touched eyes for the first time as the bus pulled up and he looked straight at me, kind brown eyes steady. "Young lady, I have faith in you," he said slowly, and then he broke our eye contact and stepped on the bus. I would have thanked him, I think, but there was neither time nor need. We spoke the same language.

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