And so it has begun. Another year, another round of questions, worries, hopes, and ideas. I find myself curious but also cautious and I sometimes wonder if I am too cautious, too careful about how things might end up or turn out. I dislike planning. I feel controlled by the schedule and calendar. I lose my freedom. Trying to find it or re-imagine my wings has become harder as the years accumulate. Different things fight for my attention. The responsibility of and for things I didn't know existed creep up.
I went grocery shopping today, needing a few things and not wanting to be alone in the apartment. The perfect time to people watch is around 5:23 in the evening. Folks have just left work, blazing through the aisles looking for markdowns, toilet paper, and milk.
As I made my way through the produce I saw an elderly man gently leaning on his cart. He wore a starched navy jacket unzipped and looked as if he was in his late eighties. The hat he wore was a matching shade of navy but had been stitched yellow with the words..
My eyes curled into their "Ah" creases and the left side of my mouth pull up a bit. Wow. A veteran of the second world war deciding if he should buy the Russet potatoes or the Yukon Gold. A man whose name I did not know, a man who has lived a life I can not imagine. There I was, young in my twenty-one years of life and him...I wonder what 2019 will be to him, what another year means to him.
My cart was pointed towards him. I knew I couldn't retreat. Several steps later, as we passed by each other, I slowed down and stuck out my hand...
"Thank you, sir, for your service, I appreciate it."
What else could I say? The words felt so light to me as if I had cleared my throat before speaking; like the words had already been said. But this elderly unknown gentleman, he himself has become missing in action. The world has spun right on by 1945. Without that hat I never would have stopped, never would have felt the need to shake hands with a man I know nothing of.
Yet he is a man, a man of many, to whom I am grateful.
As I drove the streets back to my apartment, I thought back to that man, to his hat. What is his story? What life has he seen and lived? What if nobody has heard it; what if nobody asks.
And then I realized that the world is full of stories that are missing in action.
And I cried.