An elderly couple had strolled over to my park bench, slowly yet purposefully. At first glance they appeared to be just another couple out for a walk. There’s a certain aimless pace, however, that such wanderers tend to follow, a recognizable tempo that identifies them as explorers admiring the unveiling landscape… and this couple were not marching to that tempo, theirs was a far more deliberate advance. An advance towards me.
There was the briefest moment of mutual discomfort, before the awkward silence was broken by the apologetic older gentleman. “I beg your pardon”, he hesitated, “may we read the plaque on that bench you happen to be sitting on? You see, it’s our son.”
I have written before on the touching custom here, in and around Vancouver, of mourning families to mark the passing of loved ones with small memorials in the form of public park benches. These benches can be found along our forest trails and sea wall walks, offering weary travelers a seat with a welcome view of the passing majesty of British Columbia. I try to make it my habit to spare the time it takes to read the messages of devotion, gratitude and shared memories that these modest tributes have to offer, partly out of respect but mostly out of admiration for the love that animated the public gift.
And so to my sudden surprise, I was meeting the two people responsible for one of my favorite memorial benches to sit in and pass the time.
I tactfully got out of the way for the time they needed to re-read the plaque for their lost boy, and for their brief reflection. I don’t know what reaction I expected from them, but I didn’t expect the warm smiles on display, perhaps the reflection of many happy memories. The mother could have cried and wept at her loss; instead she smiled at the memory of her gain, of the blessing her son had clearly been to her life.
All three of us seemed to feel a need to share some words, the pair feeling a little embarrassed at the circumstances, myself even more embarrassed for being an unexpected witness to such a personal moment. With less than ideal eloquence, I thanked them for the bench, confessing how often I came here and how far I travel to get to this one spot, to read and relax in this most inspiring of places. My sincere compliment increased the smiles that were looking back at me, and the couple opened up a little more. The mother recounted some of her sons exploits, pointing in the end to a mountain half-hidden by the clouds: “That was his favorite mountain to climb, and so we chose to place the bench here. He sure loved that view.”
That conclusive statement seemed to bring the curtain down on our encounter. Off they went, continuing along the trail, their pilgrimage at an end. I resumed my place but could not resume my reading. All I could think of were that mother’s smiles. With all that had been going wrong in my world lately, I wondered from where I find the resolve to follow her example, and find consolation in the blessings that come our way, instead of dwelling on what we are denied… a fault I have a hard time losing.
This chance meeting made it easier to think through the ongoing problems at work, and come to terms with the new conditions there, however unfortunate they may be. Life changes around us; these changes affect how we live on. Yet the decision concerning **how** they are to affect us, rests within ourselves. Giving in to despair or summoning the faith to continue living a life worth living; these are, always, our choice. A choice made easier when presented with such a superb example to follow.
I got the message, finally; and if I had missed that second bus, I would have missed the messenger…