Sitting in a cafe recently I glanced around myself to check the lie of the land before reading my newspaper. 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 a flower I find my mother coming alive in the actions of her son At one and the same time we can be ourselves, and a part of our ancestors. Their genes, their lessons, those odd habits which puzzled us when we were small suddenly re surface as we get older and force us to smile. We can’t believe our parents live on in us.
Of course they knew this all along, when our young selves criticised theirs. 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 or 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 we see our own emotions caught on camera. Look in the eyes of that fellow moving there. as the black and white film plays before our eyes,. Watch that man leaving the factory gate, released for the day and now joking with his friends, or searching the horizon . Living the moment unaware of the future which is now 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 what was the value of 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 passage on this earth. When we rail against the conduct of our children, or our parents, I think of this. 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