By Joshua Chand
“Excuse me? I’m looking for some directions?” posed the young man.
“Where ya headin’?” replied the old man.
“I’m not too sure, actually.”
The old man sat on a worn-down, maple bench by the shore and spoke in a dignified, experienced voice, which demanded attention and oozed wisdom. Ebbing and flowing, the ocean’s waves caressed the sandy shores and quickly retreated. Hanging from the old man’s neck was a golden cross. The young man asked him about the cross.
“Oh, this here? It was something I just bought myself on a whim. I figured ‘What the heck, I’ll buy it.’ It was the most blessed day of my life.”
The young man’s eyes studied the old man.“Why’s that?” asked the young man. With a look of melancholic happiness, the old man replied, “Why I met my wife that day. She’s the one that sold me this cross.”
Tired from a mix of physical and mental exhaustion from toiling with his unruly predicament, the young man asked if he could sit down. “Sure. Take a seat.” Patting his time-worn hand against the glossed, wooden bench, the old man warmly smiled. Cautiously, the young man sat on the bench.
Before the young man could pose his question, the old man interjected. “You remind me a lot of my son. He had the same way of sitting down as you: uncertain. He was always lookin’ uncertain ‘bout somethin’. So…what’s the question?”
The young man didn’t know if he could put it all into the right words. The young man’s eyes took in the scene around him; beyond the two men, lay a deep, dark azure ocean. Various waxed ships lined the sides of the port and the seagulls cooed in their bird language.
Uncomfortable, the young man shifted his position several times on the bench before beginning. “I have no idea what to do with my life,” explained the young man. “All of the world’s doors feel open to me, now. I’m scared I may go into the wrong one that’ll affect my life in the most tragic of ways. The future seems so far that I can’t fathom what I ought to do tomorrow. I…I just don’t know.” The young man shuffled nervously. “Everything was laid out: take these classes, do these extracurriculars, go to this school; I was never in the decision-making room. All of these hours I spent doing those things, I never asked myself the most important question: ‘Why?’
“I,” started the young man, “I want to blame someone–but there’s no one to blame! Between the equations I have solved, the books I have read, and the movies I have seen, none of them have taught me how to live. When will I ever learn?” The young man stopped.
Between the two, the birds filled in their silence. “Sorry. I got out of hand there,” said the young man. He paused before continuing. “I guess it all boils down to this question: how do I live?” After finishing, they both sat, in silence. Cold wind blasted their faces–so much so that the young man felt the early signs of a headache.
“I’m sorry,” started the young man, beginning to regret his decision.
“What’ve you got to be sorry for, huh?” asked the old man.
The young man explained, “Well, here I am airing my problems to someone who doesn’t have a stake in my life; I’m putting all of this burden on you. Asking such a question was irresponsible of me. Sorry, I should leave–considering I’m getting a headache and all.”
Beginning to get up, the young man felt a tug on his jacket. The old man was grabbing the back of his jacket. “Hold on,” he said, “don’t run from this.” The young man paused–then, he sat down.
The old man sat in thought. “I met my wife by chance,” began the old man. “I met her on a whim. I was in the military at the time–the Navy. We were stationed off by western Ireland at a base called Seans. It was a gorgeous day outside and hot–by Ireland’s standards–so I took a walk. My superior officer suggested it, by chance. There was a large city located by our base where I was walking to; it was an unassuming place where nothing seems to happen. There, I found a quaint shop that sold jewelry. I’m still not sure why I stepped in. Perhaps something greater compelled me, but I wouldn’t be too sure of that. By chance, I walked in and met her.” He paused. The old man’s body remained steady and he pressed on.
“You see, it was by a series of chances that led to that moment. It was a series of chances that led to me having a son. But, it was a series of chances that took my wife away from me. Despite this, I would say I had a good life. But, it had always been fifty-fifty–like a coin flip.” The old man stopped, then began again. “Everything you need to know to live is around you. You only need to implement it in your life and to always be prepared to learn and keep your mind open. Don’t be pretentious and pretend you know something when you don’t know anything. Despite the many things I’ve done, the things I have seen, I would say I know little about the world and living.” The old man finished. They sat in silence.
Gathering all of his experiences–his failures, his regrets, his triumphs–the old man spoke once more: “Every good and every bad is possible in life. If I never met my wife, perhaps she would’ve lived longer. Perhaps, she would’ve been happier with someone else. But she chose me, and I wouldn’t give up meeting her for the world. Not for anything. Nothing. Every time I got something pleasant, something awful followed. But, I always kept loving her, and I kept moving on. I can’t promise you everything will be okay. I can’t promise you’ll be very happy with your path or choices in life. But…I can tell you this: If I had a chance to live my life over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Everybody’s got one shot, so shoot. I guarantee you won’t regret it.”
The young man’s eyes widened as the old man’s words took root in the young man’s mind. The ocean continued its ebbing and flowing–crashing against the rocky piers. The young man remained seated and contemplated the old man’s words. After coming to his conclusion, the young man announced his plans for the future.
“I don’t know what the ‘right’ way to live is. All I know is there is a choice to make in my life. I need to make it and move on. I could read all the books in the world, consult all of my friends and family, and wax about it and still get nowhere. If I spend all that time thinking about my regret, I’ll have missed the decision entirely. Perhaps, I’ll never know what is the right way to live, but that’s fine. There’ll be something at the end of every road that will leave me with hate and something to leave me with love. It won’t all be good, but it won’t be all bad either. However, I need to make this choice myself. I need to be the arbiter, just this once. Because, then, it will have been my choice, no matter how bad it was. Simply put: it’s a coin flip.”
“So,” began the old man, “what are you going to do?”
The young man replied.
The old man nodded.
“I would’ve done that, too.” The old man took the young man’s hand and gave him his cross. “Here, take it. I’m at my tail’s end, anyway.” The young man thanked the old man and walked towards the horizon. The old man simply watched his brisk back brace against his uncertainty. The old man saw the weight the young man carried. Slouched as he was, he accepted his burden. Surely, thought the old man, if I had a camera, this moment would be nice to have.