An old man sat on a park bench. His face had crevices like an old melon. His eyes, as blue as a child’s marble, turned toward the ground in contemplation. Every so often, the man would sigh with the weight of his thoughts. As he sat quietly, an old woman dressed in a cloth coat, sensible shoes, and a black purse, casually sat on the bench next to him. In her hand, she held a bag from a deli with what appeared to be a sandwich in it.
“Good afternoon. I hope I’m not interrupting you by sitting here,” the lady said quite amiably.
“Not at all,” said the man. “I was just thinking about everything I gave up for my children, and now, they don’t call very often, or visit me as regularly as I’d like.”
The lady smiled because she knew the man was not looking at her, and she would not have wanted to hurt his feelings by laughing.
“Are you unhappy that you had children?” she asked.
“No,” said the man, surprised by the odd and forward question. “I just thought that they would have appreciated what I had done for them. I had no idea they would allow me to be so lonely, knowing my dreams had been cast aside to make sure they had everything they needed to succeed.”
“Have they succeeded?” queried the lady, genuinely interested in the man’s answer.
“They have.” The man brightened a bit. He went on to tell the lady of his children’s successes, and how they overcame their challenges with wisdom and strength.
“And, what did you sacrifice to make sure they could have a good life?” asked the lady.
“I wanted to be a professional baseball player. I wanted to win a pennant and know that I had helped my team win the big one.” The man was both excited and wistful in his memory.
“Do you suppose that although you didn’t play baseball, you still got your dream? You children are your team, you are their coach, and they keeping winning in their endeavors, even after you stepped back as an active, daily coach.” The lady started to open her chicken and tomato half-sandwich wrapped in white butcher paper. The silence between them that followed, underscored by the crinkly paper, was strangely comforting to both of the elderly visitors to the bench as they mulled over their conversation.
As she silently offered half her sandwich to the old man, the lady nearly whispered, “The only dreams you forfeited were the ones you invented. The ones that you were meant to live seem to have come true, even though you didn’t realize it at the time.”
The man looked at her as he declined the sandwich, angry that this stranger would be arrogant enough to talk about his life when she didn’t even know him.
“And,” the old lady dared to continue, “you multiplied the dreams lived by your children by doing so.”
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the man’s craggy face softened. His brows unfurrowed, and his frown was neutralized by his realization that he had, indeed, lived his dreams.
The lady stood up, threw away the wrapper for the sandwich. When she was done organizing her coat and purse, she purposefully turned toward the old man. She drew in a deep breath and spoke confidently, “Dear sir, you have lived the dream that many don’t get to experience. You’ve seen your children grow into adulthood and be happy. Even though your children don’t call or visit as often as you prefer, it is because they are living the lives they were meant to live. Perhaps now is the time to coach little league, or write about the sports you’ve followed for so many years.”
The man smiled, embarrassed that he had spent part of his precious life feeling sorry for himself.
“Thank you, ma’am.” The man hesitated as if he were about to say something else. “Just… thank you.”
As the lady walked away, the cell phone that the old man’s son had given him rang. “Hello, Dad,” he heard his son say.