A Prayer for an Old Man Sitting on a Bench
By Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh
There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers. – St. Teresa of Avila
Sometimes I take a different way to work depending on traffic. I refer to it as the “back way.” It takes longer to get to work this way, but at least the traffic is moving. I take this way to avoid the freeway when an accident or any incident results in the freeway turning into a parking lot.
As I get a little closer into downtown, I see an old man sitting on a bench. Oh, I’ve seen him there before a few times when I’ve taken this route to work and have come to refer to him as “The Old Man on the Bench.”
This man appears to be in his late 80s or older and he looks the same every time I’ve seen him: He wears a scraggly coat (regardless of the season) and baggy brown pants and old black shoes, and his white hair is always a little messy.
I find myself thinking of a song when I see him. It’s written by Simon and Garfunkel called “Old Friends.” The words from the song that come to mind are:
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Old friends, preserve your memories.
They're all that's left of you.
I can’t tell you why I’m drawn to think of him when I drive by. Maybe it’s because he seems so alone while he sits on that bench; maybe because it makes me a little sad. I will admit to wondering what his life must have been like to bring him to this point. Why does he appear to be so alone?
I think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to invite him to a family dinner or our family Thanksgiving gathering?”
Then again, maybe this is just me thinking about a way to create something nice for a stranger when he may already be perfectly content with his life. Perhaps he goes to this bench in need of a morning break. Within a few minutes the light changes and I finish my commute to work. He becomes a brief memory again. That’s usually how it goes with the Old Man on the Bench and me.
Except for today.
Today I noticed something different.
It appeared as if he was holding on tightly to something in his hand. I was able to get a closer look while I sat at the red light. It took me a couple of minutes to discern what it was. And then I finally saw it. He was gripping a white rosary. It seemed so out of place with his dark clothing and his wrinkled overcoat.
I wondered who it belonged to. Did it once belong to his wife? Did someone from church give it to him?
But then as he was staring straight ahead lost in his thoughts I noticed his fingers were moving on the beads. He was obviously saying the rosary.
As I was driving to work I began wondering what he was praying for, or who. Then it hit me. What a tremendous gift the rosary can be no matter where we are in our life. Whatever things that have happened in his life either before or now, he has the rosary to give him solace.
There is a nursing home close to where that bench sits. Perhaps he lives there and this is the private place he goes to pray.
In any case, I found myself praying that God will take particular notice to his prayers today. I hope his life continues to have meaning for him. I hope wherever he lives, someone cares about him. Mainly, I hope that when he leaves this world and sees God, he is surrounded with the love he so deserves.
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