Shortly before Christmas I witnessed something that has had a pretty huge effect on me. I will be totally honest, at the time I didn’t give it much thought. On the surface it was a brief incident, all over in 30 seconds and quite easy to forget.
And yet now, four weeks onwards, I cannot get this out of my mind.
The fallen man.
I had just met up with a friend and as we were walking down the road something small entered my peripheral vision. A movement, small and barely noticeable but it was just enough to interrupt my conversation and grab my attention.
An elderly man was lying on his back on the corner of the road, legs in the air, at first I thought he was going to find his way to his feet but no, he lay there.
After a second or two I realised something was definitely wrong so I walked over and thankfully he was fully conscious and looking directly up at me.
“Hi are you okay?” I said, offering my hand.
“Yes, yes” he replied.
This was something I failed to recognise at the time but thinking back it was the one thing which now troubles me.
The resignation in his face said it all.
This wasn’t a surprise to him. This wasn’t something that had caught him off guard. This wasn’t the first time that his youthful mind had written cheques that his now frail body couldn’t cash.
As I gripped his hands and pulled his surprisingly light frame to its feet I then asked him if he needed anything.
There was no real reply, just a shake of the head and a thank you. No fear, no shame, no embarrassment, not even a glimpse of frustration.
It was at this point that I noticed blood on my own hands. The paper thin skin on his fingertips had taken the brunt of the fall but yet there was not even a whimper of pain.
He turned around, picked up his bags and was on his way barely 5 seconds after rising to his feet.
Just like that, he was back to his routine, but I just stood there watching him soldier on with his journey. I glanced at my hands, a streak of blood as a reminder of how frail life can be. A walking egg shell ready to crack at any moment.
I turned back to my friend and we carried on with our journey, barely mentioning what just happened and to be honest I had pushed it to the back of my mind. It was only a few days later that I would start thinking about it in more detail.
Is this what happens to all of us?
Do we all grow old, wither and crumble?
Was this man’s inability to acknowledge the situation a sign of a stiff upper lip or because he just didn’t care anymore?
I thought about the life he had led. Maybe he had served his country by fighting in the war or maybe he had done nothing remarkable at all. What does it matter what we do for the end result is always the same.
We grow old and our body fails us.
Or maybe it was peace.
Maybe he was at peace with who he was and his life situation. He was happy with his life and accepted his current state as a frail old man because he’s lived a life worth living. I would like to think that is the case but gnawing away at me is the feeling that I could be wrong.
Maybe he is scared.
His time is coming and every small thing that reminds him of what he has become is quickly blocked out and ignored.
I suppose we just don’t know and will never know until we are in that situation, and that situation will become us all. We don’t think it will, we refuse to believe we will ever grow old but barring some significant breakthroughs in science, old is what we will be.
And what will I think if this happens? Will I be happy, content and at peace with who I am and what I have achieved?
I can tell you right now the answer is a resounding no. I am a third of this man’s age but I don’t feel as though I have lived a third of this man’s life.
Sometimes we need a little reminder that we all have a ticking clock inside of us that counts down, every second of every day and if we’re not careful it will reach zero before we even know what’s happened.
One day we could be staring up at the sky, deep in reflection, wondering how it came to this when a stranger leans over, offers their hand and we must decide. Do we fight on another day and do our best or do we give up?
The fallen man rose to his feet and decided to fight on. As we all must do.
Every second of every day.