Between clients' houses, I hurriedly stopped by a local coffee shop to finish ordering some material and to down a double espresso.
As I packed up my bag and began walking toward my car, I noticed an elderly man sitting on a sidewalk bench all by himself.
My first thought was he was homeless and was preparing to ask me for some change, but he looked well kept. A neatly trimmed beard, a good pair of shoes and coat. No, this man is not homeless, I concluded. As I prepared to pass him by, I noticed he had a walking pole, the kind of pole that a blind person uses. Something in my heart told me that this man was sent here today for me. I ignored my inner voice, as I all too often do, and continued walking by. As I passed, the sun was in such a position that my shadow crossed his face. I heard a soft gentle voice, “excuse me, are you by chance crossing Mulberry.” I turned around, ashamed that I had not stopped in the first place.
“Yes sir, I’m heading that way, can I assist you?”
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I’m just going to the gas station across the street.”
“Of course,” I replied.
I took his arm and we very, very slowly, began making our way across the street.
Chester, was my companions name. Chester is 81 years old, although he looked to be only 65. In the time it took to walk Chester the 20 yards to the gas station, I learned that Chester had begun losing his sight 10 years ago, 5 years ago it had gone dark completely. Chester lived alone in Ft. Collins and he has two daughters that live in Denver.
Chester's entire plan for the day was to cross the street to the gas station, get a cup of coffee, a banana muffin, and sit on the bench to enjoy both. This required the help of several strangers along the way, but Chester did not concern himself with that, “God would provide.”
I brought him to the gas station where I fully intended to say my goodbyes. As we entered, the attendant that knew him by name said, “Hey Chester, it’s going to be a while before we can bring you back, it's only me here right now.” Chester offered her a “no problem” and thanked me very kindly for the help across the street. “Chester,” I said, “I’m happy to wait for you and bring you back.”
He was incredibly thankful as he very, very slowly was helped by the attendant at the ATM where he withdrew $20, then bought a cup of coffee and a banana muffin. I checked my watch impatiently, thinking of the 50 tasks I needed to complete before the day was over.
As we (incredibly slowly) made our way back across the street, Chester, talking so softly that I had to bend down and strain to hear him over the busy Fort Collins mid-day traffic, but talking the entire way nonetheless. I began to feel an odd sense of peace. I had been in such a bustle the entire day, rushing from stop to stop, and here I was being forced to walk a kind old man across the street, to slow down, to just enjoy another human's company for a moment.
We arrived at the bench I had found him on, only to discover that Chester had no intention of returning to this particular bench, but a different bench caddy-corner, which required us to very, very slowly cross another two busy Fort Collins streets. So we began making our way, Chester softly speaking the entire way, me straining to listen. As we finally arrived at our destination, Chester very slowly sat down, preparing to complete the remainder of his day's mission by enjoying the hard earned coffee and banana muffin. I couldn’t believe the words came out of my mouth, being in the hurry that I thought I was in, but I asked him if I could sit with him for a little while.
Me and Chester, an old bench, a cup of coffee, a banana muffin and a crisp, beautiful Fall day.
For the first time that day, perhaps that week, perhaps even that month, I let the cool autumn breeze touch my face. I admired at the beautiful orange and yellow leaves, I breathed deeply in the crisp Fall air, then I simply listened. Chester, an old friend at this point, told me about the world, being a man and of life itself. After 30 minutes had passed, I started kicking myself for all the wisdom this old man was offering my way and me letting it just pass on by, so I began taking notes. Here are just a few of what I call “Chesterisums.” I wish I had written down or could remember more:
“As long as you take care of your wife and kids in life, you’ll be alright.”
“You’ve got to love life. If you don’t love life, you won’t be here long.”
“A man was made to work. If he doesn’t work for long enough, he’ll go crazy."
"How you measure a man is not what he does for himself and his Harley Davidson, it’s what he does for his family. Besides, I don’t like Harley’s.”
“Don’t get upset about paying taxes. Look around you, everything you see here was built by people paying their taxes. These streets, these lights, the bus driving by, it's all from taxes, without taxes we’d just be a bunch of savages running around.” (a tough lesson for me I will admit)
“One of the problems I see in society, these boys, there is no man present. The boy is not learning how to be a man. Dad has to be there to lead him. Everything your boy learns, he learns from you, he follows you around. Everything he is going to learn, he is going to learn from you. How to act, how to treat a woman, how to be courageous, it all comes from watching Dad.”
“If God asks me when I die, If I sent you back, would you want to do something different for work? I’d say; No, but I’d like to have my girls all over again. I was one busy sucker, that time, that time you can’t get back.”
As all good things do, my time with Chester had to come to an end. He offered me a fist bump, I offered him a hug and I thanked him for allowing me to sit with him. He had done much more for me than I did for him that day. As I said my goodbyes, I asked Chester what was next for him today, he left me with this:
“Every day's an adventure. Just walking out your door is an adventure if you let it be. Today my adventure is eating a muffin, maybe I’ll grab the Northbound MAX and see where it takes me, either way, I’m going to have an adventure.”
I walked away saddened, feeling like I had just abandoned my new friend, blind and alone on the side of a busy sidewalk. But Chester has been adventuring for a long time. I reminded myself that it wouldn't be an adventure if I had held his arm all day. Then I breathed in deeply, and committed myself, at least this day, to have my own adventure.