A Reverential Autumn

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The majestic maple, dotted with leaves of orange and yellow, stood as a testament to the centuries past and the unspoken secrets hidden within its branches. On the ground, weathered roots and fallen leaves painted the floor like Nature’s patchwork quilt. There was no sound other than occasional twitter of a robin or bluebird, signaling their quest for warmer weather. All was serene; no interference plagued this outcropping. The aesthetics and beauty of the surrounding area suggested that this region of the park usually lived silent and undisturbed. Today, however, was different.

Coming down a well worn dirt path was the distant outline of a small man. As he approached this area, it became apparent that he was elderly, yet still maintained his vigor. His goal seemed to be the triumphant maple which ruled over the other trees. The old man inched toward the maple, gazing intently at its features, staring familiarly as if it were an old friend. He was neither feeble nor fragile, yet there was a peculiar slowness and uncertainty to his step. He paused often to look around and listen to the natural tranquility of the world around him. This section of the park was thicketed by spruces and oaks, which created a natural enclave. The old man, however, was intent on reaching the single maple which resided toward the end of the dirt pathway.

I watched him make this journey from my seat upon the bench. From my position, I was naturally blocked from view by an unpruned bush and a young sapling; yet, if I leaned my head slightly to the right, I could see the old man while being shielded by the foliage. He was closer to the maple now, but each progressing step seemed to become increasingly hesitant. After a moment of silent thought, I heard the faint echo of a sigh as he once more took a step forwards the towering maple. His face was rough, aged with the memories of a thousand lifetimes. And his eyes, oh his eyes! In his eyes were the shadows of sorrow and pain, haunting his expressions and tormenting his soul. Yet, past these shadows was something deeper, a thing more powerful and resilient than sorrow, a thing more eternal and unshakable than pain. These were the eyes of a man of strength, a man of such resoluteness and integrity that no culmination of worldly powers had the ability to quench its inner flame. The sorrow inherent in his eyes seemed an unnatural and unwanted companion, one which he could easily dismiss with a simple blink of the eye; yet, he allowed it to stay and adorn his features. I became transfixed on eyes, hypnotized by the silent stories of which they alluded. His eyes presented a mirror of the world, a mirror which did not reflect outward images and appearances, but rather the most inward and intimate of emotions and desires. I seemed his eyes could glance at a person and peer into their soul, spilling its contents on their hazel surface. Yet, today, his eyes were cloudy and glazed, clearly masked by something grievous and melancholy

His left hand flickered and glinted in the sunlight. It soon became apparent that he was carrying something metallic in nature, but the identity of this object was obscured by my shrouded lookout. As he made his way to the base of the tree, the old man shrank to his knees. The leaves overhead, still wet with the evening rain, dripped innocent droplets into his head and shoulders. He extended his hand and touched the tree, tracing with his fingers the outline of some worn inscription. A drop of water trailed down his face and lingered on his upper lip; whether is was a raindrop or a tear I do not know. He lifted the metallic object from his hand and dangled it in front of him. His eyes, still shadowed in sorrow, glinted as the object caught the tender sunlight. He proceeded to clasp the object tightly and hold it to his chest, rocking back and forth. A look of complete and total remorse shook his entire being and enveloped the poor creature. Words cannot express the look in the old man’s eye, penetrating the calm, looking for something, anything, an answer, a friend. These eyes reached out for eternity and found only darkness.

I wondered, truly wondered, what the old man was possibly feeling. His presence had instilled a growing and powerful curiosity in my mind. Why was he here? What caused the look in his eye? What was he feeling inside? So many questions flooded my eager mind. I was strongly tempted to make my presence known and offer assistance, but I feared it might disrupt the very fibers of Nature itself. This moment, this experience I was a witness to, breathed a strong and potent feeling into my soul. It was endless yet finite, boundless yet restricted, overwhelming yet simple, awe-inspiring yet terrifying, spiritual yet instinctive. I became more than a mere observer, I was a participant to an event which defies all description. The indescribable feeling which overcame me only heightened my need to know of this man’s purpose and his unspoken thoughts. I was now a part of his life, connected to him by a feeling thicker than air, which wisped around us both and danced in our shadows.

My thoughts were interrupted by the faint pitter-patter of rain, slow at first, then escalating into a total downpour within seconds. I stood up and looked for cover, unprepared for the sudden storm. I caught sight of the old man. His face still downward, there was a subtle smile on his face. The rain did not phase him or bother him; instead, it simply caused him to look upwards and accept the cascading shower. He extended his hands upwards, welcoming the baptismal torrent. His smile grew, and suddenly he engaged in a genial laughter. It was soft, but it had enough intensity to reverberate throughout the seclusion. I stirred slightly, shivering with the sudden cold which the rain brought. He caught sight of me. Afraid and unsure what to do, I gestured to him cordially. He returned my gesture with a bigger smile. My presence was of no distraction to him, as I earlier feared. Soaking wet, he carefully worked his way back to his feet, holding his lower back in his hands for support. And with a final look at the maple tree, he began to walk off.

His stride was neither hesitant or uncertain as it was before. Instead, the old man walked with a new found surety and resolve. The rain appeared to gracefully trace his footsteps as he departed. The maple branches swayed towards him as a gust of wind blew through. Guarded from the rain by a neighboring oak, I watched him walk away. Just before he was out of sight, he turned back, as if to get one final glance of the powerful ambiance which lingered still in the air. I happened to catch his eye. The shadows of sorrow were gone, replaced with a renewed luster and pristine. They seemed at peace, fully alive with the sweetness of joy and the comforting power of love. They were once more mirrors into the souls of mankind. Shaking his head, he turned back and walked away into the sunset.

I stood transfixed for several moments, not knowing how to proceed, absorbing and internalizing the reality of the events which unfolded before me. I gazed at the regal maple, surveying its expanse of boughs and branches, when a small flicker of light caught my eye in the direction of the tree. I slowly traced my way to the maple as if the ground was consecrated and holy, and lowered myself to the ground, that self same spot where the old man resided only moments earlier. I found the cause of the flicker was the shine of a necklace, modestly encrusted with diamonds. It rested gently on a giant yellow leaf, perfectly positioned in the center. This sight caused a subtle smile to befall my features, not unlike the same smile which the old man produced while kneeling there. Not wanting to disturb its final resting place, I stood up and exited the park in the opposite direction.

That day, that moment in time, will never fade from my memory, no matter how ephemeral or fleeting the experience was in comparison with all my years of life. I carry that experience with me everywhere, its sole protector, warding off neglect with constant remembrance. Some days, when the sun is just right overhead and the park is quiet enough, I swear I can see a glint of light at the foot of the old maple. Further inspection proves it was likely just my imagination making connections when there are none to be made. Yet, I always feel a connection to that place, and when I close my eyes and look inside myself, I sometimes can feel what I felt on that ordinary day. And when I feel that feeling, it covers me completely. Then, I know I am fully alive.





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