Sitting in a cafe recently with a coffee and my newspaper I glanced around myself to check the lie of the land before I began reading. My eye was caught by some old boy also sitting on his own. His clothes seemed as old as he did: clean and brushed but worn and giving him an air of someone not unduly fussed by the opinions of others. Sensing my gaze he looked up at me. I raised my eyebrows in a silent hello and he smiled. Nothing was said. The look was timeless but it made me think
Sometimes in the way I check for my keys or reach to smell the fragrance of some flower I find my mother coming alive in the actions of her son so many years after she died: all of us have or will have this experience. At the same time we are ourselves, and the very people we mourn. Their spirit and mannerisms live on in us. Their genes, their lessons, those odd habits which puzzled us when we were young suddenly re surface as we get older and force us to smile. We can’t believe we are turning into our parents.
Of course they knew this all along, when our young selves criticised them. They smiled, remembering how they felt the same outrage in their youth. It’s strangely comforting to know that so a loved figure is still with us in the way we hold a tea-cup or look out of the window as we try to remember some detail. My father died when I was quite young. When I started work someone asked me if I was any relation to him. I had never spoken or interacted with this person, but just in the way I walked and in my look I rang a bell in her mind: she had been his secretary many years before and here, out of the blue, he seemed to walk again.
Who knows what distant ancestor’s behaviour we mirror while thinking our behaviour all our own. In those photographs and films we see of older generations dealing with bygone problems and difficulties we experience ourselves. Look in the eyes of that fellow moving there. in that old black and white cine film as it unfolds before our eyes,. Leaving the factory gate, released for the evening, joking with his friends or searching the horizon . Living the moment unaware of the future which is us now looking back at him. The timeless struggle in which we are all joined evokes our common humanity and reminds us that we are all, in some ways , one family.
Could we all meet, in some distant resting place. Now all the same age, say 65, and say to each other, generation to generation, without the defence of age or parenthood, so how did you spend your time. Perhaps we would be more understanding of our parents, and our ancestors, acknowledging their lives, and accepting the very frailties which now mark our own existence. When we rail against the conduct of our children or our parents I think of this. sometimes. Is it possible that forgiveness is the better part of understanding. With this in mind, as I left the cafe I went up to the old man sitting at his table. “It’s not all bad is it ” I said. “No it isn’t” he replied and we both smiled