The Spectator
founded 2004 by ron cruger
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by Ron Cruger
The Man with the Cane
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     The years flow by much too fast. We blink and two years, five, ten, twenty have gone by. We make promises to ourselves and we neglect to keep them. Each of us carries the book of pledges unkept. The thoughts of these unfulfilled promises rattle around in our heads from year to year, emerging briefly, only to be placed back in their quiet storage areas in our brains.
     My pledge book contains scores of declarations of things I have wanted to do, to accomplish. Some are of import, some just idle vows, of value only to me.
     For eight of the past ten years that I have lived in my current home I have made a promise to myself. Just something that I would quietly accomplish. Not anything that I would share – until now, perhaps because Christmas will be upon us in a few days.
     My promise is to smile at someone. Nothing more.
     Since living here I have taken long daily walks. Up my street, turning right and heading along the busy boulevard, turning again up a small rise, down another street, across the major intersection, then another right turn, past the Post Office, past the mammoth Costco store, through the center of the major shopping area and then home.
     Three or four times each week, on the busy boulevard around the corner from my home I would see him. We have walked past each other without a greeting for a decade now.
     He may be Filipino or Indonesian – which is not important. He is a short, slightly built man. His skin is not dark, nor light. It is the color of coffee with cream. He is somewhere in his seventies, his hair is thinning.
I think he has had a stroke. His facial expression has remained the same over the years. It is one of determination.
     He walks with the aid of a simple brown cane. His right leg is unsteady and drags slightly behind where it should be. Some years ago, when I first noticed him, the man with the cane had a more noticeable limp. Over the years, I presume by sticking to his daily regimen of walking, he has overcome the more serious shuffle. He must be a man of dedication. Over the years I have grown to admire the man with the cane. He, evidently has kept word with himself to overcome something that was of not his volition. Where other men have succumbed to ill fortune this man has combated it and continues the battle to regain full use of his body.
     Each time, during my daily walks, I notice the man with the cane walking towards me. I first see him dozens of yards away. He carries a look of determination as he nears me. I can hear his right foot slightly slide along the sidewalk and I can hear the tap of his brown cane – click, click, click with each step as it gently touches down on the sidewalk.
     For a decade we have passed each other without any acknowledgment of the other. By this day we must both realize that the other exists.
     For the past eight years I have taken notice of the man with the cane and made a promise to myself. “Smile at him and let him know how much I envy him for his determination.”
     I tried to imagine where and how he lived. Perhaps he lived with his son and daughter. Perhaps they took him in their home after he had his stroke. Perhaps his wife died years ago. What job did he used to have? What’s his name? How does it feel to have a stroke? I had so many questions of this man to whom I had never spoken.
     For eight years I have avoided fulfilling the promise to myself.
     Yesterday, on the return leg of my walk, I looked up and saw him approaching. I heard the click, click, click of his cane. He was almost to me. He was wearing neatly pressed pants, a long sleeved paisley print shirt. His Nike sneakers looked new. His brown cane was in his right hand. He was bareheaded.
     It would be Christmas day soon.
     As we neared each other I smiled at him and said, “Hi, Merry Christmas.”
     He appeared startled and stopped walking. He looked at me and offered a slight smile. Because of the stroke he couldn’t smile broadly. But it was a warm smile.
     He leaned on his cane and stood there, with the slight smile, looking directly in my eyes.
     I said, “We’ve passed each other for years. I thought it was time to introduce myself.” I said, “I’m Ron.”
     The man with the cane continued smiling.
     He shook his head as though saying “yes.”
     I reached towards him, touching his left shoulder. I said, “I don’t mean to interrupt your walk. We’ll see each other again.”
     He shook his head up and down once. Yes.
     The man with the cane gave me that gentle smile again. I smiled in return.
     He walked in one direction, I the opposite.
     I think I saw a gentle smile remain on his face as he walked away. Click, click, click.
     I was already looking forward to tomorrow and my next walk up the street.
     Christmas would be here soon. My best gift would be a gentle smile