The old man set about on his walk in the usual way. He rose, put on his shorts since it was summer and was out the door of his old house with nothing more than a t-shirt, socks and sneakers joining the old shorts.
Everything in his life was now old—all that he wore and all that he came upon was mostly the same thing on each and every walk, of each and every day he was not yet dead.
He tried to clear his mind. Check that, there was nothing to speak of that merited clearing. He lived simply and his thoughts were whatever came into his head. The thoughts seemed to take over on parts of the walk. He wasn’t consciously summoning past images of people he loved or songs that made him think of those loved ones; they just flowed easily in and out of his head, each and every day that he took his walk.
When retirement came he was unprepared. A lot of this could be attributed to his habit of drifting from one experience to the next as he lived through his 20’s, 30’s 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and now 70’s. He lived his life like a cross-country runner: he took whatever the road and path gave him and never, ever, even a bit more.
Not only was he unprepared for retirement, he was afraid of it. When he walked, though, his fears subsided. He figured being able to walk, and well, movement in general, kept his mind free of clutter. Never one to stay still for long–that’s how it was each and every day–leaving the scary details of growing old alone at the entrance to the twilight of his fleeting existence.
The walk was a respite of structure in an otherwise structure-free day. When he was younger and stronger he didn’t ever fear being alone in a dark alley. The feeling that he could be overpowered without much difficulty now, made him avoid these kinds of places out of feelings for self-preservation. Nothing good ever happens after 10 p.m. in dark alleys, rights?
This day the walk was different, though.
And it was not fear of any person, place or thing. Instead, today’s feeling on the walk began mostly lighthearted and fancy-free. He was walking at a lively pace as he finally finished traversing the asphalt roads just at the entrance to the park. He was where he loved being most, one more time. He felt good, too.
He decided to take a path that was circular. He had been on it before. It was a track of sorts, oval, but it consisted of compacted red clay and it was easy on his feet and back. On the inside of the oval was a swath of green grass that was later in the day occupied by lacrosse and soccer players. Further down the back side of the oval were ball fields and finally at the end of the first half lap, some tennis courts.
As he walked past the empty soccer and lacrosse fields, he came upon a couple of young, middle school-aged boys. One stood at home plate and the other stood in front of where the shortstop would be and behind where the pitcher’s mound was.
The kid in back of the mound was hurling the ball to the other one who was batting.
“Tink!” went the aluminum bat as the ball was pelted past the boy who was pitching.
Again, and again the scene replayed itself. The old man thought the baseballs would have to be gathered and then they would probably trade positions—the one who was pitching would now have a chance to hit.
Before that happened, though, the boy who was batting fouled off a pitch that rolled up to where the old man was walking. The boys shouted something to him, but he couldn’t make it out.
He picked up the ball and threw it back to them as hard as he could. It fell about ten feet short of the pitcher and it made the old man smile. The boys waved thank you to him.
He continued walking around the oval, making it one time and passing the boys again on his second lap. There was no ball to throw back to them this time, though.
Fate still had something else in store for the old man as he approached the tennis courts half way through his second and final lap.
He came to the last court and a tennis ball suddenly flew over the fence and rolled up to him same as the baseball the boys were playing with a quarter lap behind him.
This time the old man trotted up to greet the yellow tennis ball. He picked it up and fired it back to the father and son playing tennis on the other side of the fence. He threw it a little too far this time and it was errant. He was graced with a thank you from the father just the same.
The last half of the second lap was uneventful. He just walked and was alone with his thoughts. A song he used to love that he hadn’t thought of in a long while came rustling through his head. He was instantly transported back in time to another place with another person. He thought that it didn’t seem too long ago as he turned out of the park, looking over his shoulder for the ball players, but they were well out of sight.
He was disappointed at being too far away to be able to see them as he set back upon the familiar asphalt. He was also feeling something else. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it right away, but he soon recognized it as he approached the walkway leading to his front door.
The unmistakable feeling of satisfaction creased the man’s lips in the form of a smile. Feeling not so old at this very moment, he turned the key into his front door and walked through—another day’s walk safely in the books.