Usually on my walks, I am simply praying, thinking, talking to God, and listening. Because the fall has been mild, lately I’ve had the pleasure of observing a little bit of wildlife in the neighborhood.
I’ve seen a heron near the shore of the river, on a couple of different occasions. I watched a gaggle of Canada geese bathing in the river; they were so funny, it looked a bit like synchronized swimming to me, as several of them would lift and flap their wings, splashing at the same time. Several times I spotted a brilliant red-headed woodpecker examining the bark on the trees by the bank. On another occasion, further down the river, in a patch of woods, I could see a deer making her way to the water, but some other animal chased it off– I think it was a dog.
While driving to church on Sunday over a week ago, a beautiful stag was running alongside with me as I drove. It was so surprising– I slowed down and let it pass, watching it zigzag through yards and onto the street– and finally make its way to a wooded thicket across a major street, near another bend on the same river.
On other days, I’ve spotted hawks, and at night, I hear owls hooting. It still is warm enough to hear the birds on some mornings, though there is a definite chill in the air now.
One day last week, I was walking on a beautiful, warm day, and way behind me, down the block, I could see a man in a mobile chair. A few minutes later I turned around, and he was right behind me! Normally folks who are taking walks do not usually stop for conversation; often we are all simply on our way, or lost in our thoughts. Most folks just smile, say “hi” and keep walking, and I confess I usually do the same.
But not this day.
“That thing moves pretty fast!” I said to the man in his power chair. I initiated the conversation. Elderly people seem to have the most time and interest to talk, isn’t that true? And I bet this man had a story. I wanted to stop and say something more than simply “hello” and keep on walking– or more likely, the Holy Spirit was nudging me to stop and talk.
He then proceeded to show me the controls on the mobile machine and demonstrate its speed. We talked about the weather and the beautiful day, but then all of a sudden, he said, “I’m an agnostic.”
I asked him some questions, such as why is he agnostic, and what he thinks about the Bible, and that sort of thing. Turns out he is 88 years old, and though his eyesight and hearing are fine, he cannot walk on his own, and he talks with very slurred speech, which required some effort on my part to understand him. I did have to ask him to repeat a few times, because I sincerely wanted to understand what he was saying.
He has 8 children, over 40 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. What a blessing, I told him. He said he was Catholic, but he thought the Bible had a lot of stories it, and wasn’t really real. I asked which part he thought wasn’t real. He also kept asking, “Why?” But why does Jesus need to come? Do I really need to pray all day?
As I tried to answer, I prayed for God to help me say whatever this man needed to hear. I told him that I did believe in Jesus, that he came to take away our sins, and that if I don’t understand something, I ask God to help me understand. He said he does pray and that he knows God does answer him. I agreed with him, that God does answer.
I can’t imagine this meeting it was an accident; in fact, it seemed to be a purposeful meeting, though I said nothing profound whatsoever, or anything new I am sure he had not heard before. Why, of all people, was I the one to talk to him on the street? Do other people stop and talk to him? What if it were an atheist who had stopped to talk?
And then, his daughter called to him and was waving at him from down the street, and he abruptly hurried off, saying he had to go. From behind me, I could hear her telling him they were worried about him– I guess his “stroll” took longer than usual since we were talking for a few minutes!
I wonder, when a person knows he is nearing the end of his life, and any day could be the last one on earth, how it causes a person to change his ways or thoughts. Shouldn’t that be me, shouldn’t that be us, everyday, living our present day as if it were the last?