I Only Know What I Saw

What a wonderful day today.

But for that one picture in my head.  That lingers in my thoughts.

We headed out of town to go for a bike ride.  With specific plans for sun.  Sweat.  And ice cream.  We didn’t really need or want any more than that.

I wasn’t pedaling for more than three quarters of a mile and I saw him.   Just a man.  Sitting at a picnic table.  Under a little sun and rain shelter.  Actually a very nice spot to sit and rest.  Or sit and talk.  Or sit and just be.

He had a close cropped hair cut.  Mostly grey.  Some still dark edging to his hair.  He looked lean, weathered but frail.  He had some age on him.  But I couldn’t tell if it was actual years, or life, that aged him.

I had just started a steady pedal rhythm.  And my legs hiccuped.  All of these thoughts in just the seconds I saw him, and then hesitated.  A man sitting there wouldn’t normally of made me hiccup in my pace or thoughts.  I would have said hi, or hello, or good morning and gone on my way had he been looking up or had glanced up.  But it was because he didn’t.  And it was how he was sitting.  How I perceived him to be, at that moment that I saw him, that made me consider stopping.

He sat, his elbows on the table.  Left hand was fully supporting his head as he lay his forehead in the palm of that hand.  His right forearm lie across the table in front of him.  With a cigarette burning between his fingers.  A ‘to go’ coffee cup sat in front of him.   I stutter pedaled because my first inclination was to stop.  But he never glanced up.  His eyes never darted at me or acknowledged my movement towards him with a glance of hope or even a dismissive look.

He was there to be alone.

Which is why I pedaled on.

But I wanted to stop.  I wanted to say hi.  I .  I.  I.  I realized if I had stopped it would be to assuage my own needs.  His needs may very well have been met by his finding that place to sit. Without someone bothering him.  Without someone yammering, talking, or expecting something of him.

I still had a wonderful day.

And that vision of him does linger.  And it really is the vision of it that lingers.  Because I know nothing other than what my eyes saw any my brain processed as possibilities.  Possibilities that were sifted through my own life experiences and understandings and imaginations.

But for that one picture in my head.  I really don’t know anything.  I only know what I saw.

I had a great day.  But I still see that.

An Image

51 thoughts on “I Only Know What I Saw

  1. Colleen, you write the scene so clearly that I can feel the hesitation in the cadence of your pedaling, your concern for a stranger that may be down and out. Incredible insight and self-knowledge you have to recognize, in the instant of a pedal’s rotation, that it was your own needs you sought to soothe. Thank you for sharing this.


    • Thank you Carolin. It was harder for me to go on than it would have been to stop. On the return ride he was not there, but it was a couple of hours later…. but I was looking.


  2. I like this post a great deal! I’m glad you did not approach him and I’m also sorry. I’ve come across scene like this. Those I didn’t touch with words, I touched with prayer, sometimes both. Thank you for sharing.


  3. Colleen, you are a compassionate, caring person. I’m willing to bet many people would pass by the man and never give him a second thought. You may see him again in a different setting, where he may need help or be open to communicating. And you’ll be there for him.


    • Thank you Jim. I can’t help but ‘hope’ it was my perception only. And what you say, “where he may need help or be open to communicating” kind of sums it up….I did not think he was open to communicating at that moment. His body language and posture told me this.

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  4. what a wonderful way of portraying this scene, this man, this moment. it is clear you are an empathetic and compassionate person and sometimes it is hardest to just let things be. i hope you cross paths again and perhaps he will be more open then.


    • Thank you Beth. Amazing isn’t it? That letting things be is often the most difficult thing to do. If our paths ever do cross, I don’t think I will recognize him. Maybe that’s part of my journey.


  5. You only know what you know, MBC. If there was a need other than solitude, more opportunities will present themselves in this man’s life for others down the line. Maybe even you. Great BlogHead after the fact, my friend the thinker.


    • Thank you MBM. “A need other than solitude”. That is a great statement. Thanks for the Bloghead comment, though I really wish I could have captured more of what I saw…. and felt.


  6. That is tricky, the image, yeah, it is a stark one. Makes me want to talk to the guy too…still, I would trust your intuition–he wanted alone time. Maybe after some inner peace and reflection he felt better? But yeah, I would want to talk to him to.
    Still, glad you had and good day biking. Sounds lovely out there. 🙂


  7. This was probably what I would have done. Slowed my pace in walking, stopping my brisk pace. Hesitating shows you care, almost as if he had lifted his head and looked, you could have smiled and that may have brightened his day. Nothing more you could do, but it is somewhat sad to ponder, wondering what was going on. So glad you still had a great day, Colleen. I carry ‘pictures’ of people and incidents in my life for a long time afterwards, too.


    • Thanks’ Robin. It is the ‘carrying’ of pictures in my head that I keep. I wish, in life, I had the skill of a sketch artist who could capture these moments in the detail I see them in my head. I had a camera but that would have been so inappropriate to take his picture. Truly an intrusion on him.

      Funny thing is, this fella has no idea the thoughts and comments he has generated.


  8. This reminded me of an old character, now passed away, who lived near my husbands village. Every day he would walk to the crossroads and sit there for most of the day. Sometimes he would wave as people drove past, but mostly he would sit there. Needless to say there were many stories locally about who he was waiting for, and how many years he had sat there.
    Personally I think he was unwell, mentally, but happy to just be.


    • Happy to just be. Wouldn’t that feel good though, to so many? I think it’s wonderful that he had a ‘spot’. And he could wave if he wanted, or not. I hope he was okay.


  9. He must have been deep in thought to not acknowledge your greeting. While his body language may have portrayed something different, perhaps he was pondering a positive move?


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