Not long ago I met a familiar old man at the end of the pier, sitting on a bench admiring the sunset and smiling to strangers. I was intrigued at first by the other people. As they walked by, people would return his smile, some even saying hello. Every one of them smiled, genuinely, not the obliged sort offered out of politeness and proper upbringing, but rather out of genuine warmness. The old man seemed to bring out compassion in others by merely smiling at them. At least that is what he did for me.
When he invited me to join him on the bench we instantly sparked up a conversation about boats, squirrels and pigeons, most for which he had names. It was as if I had known him my entire life. He was so easy to talk to, so comfortable to be with. He seemed so content that I finally blurted out, you must have had a pretty good life. I mean, in order for you to be so peaceful and all. Again, he smiled.
Yes I have enjoyed a wonderful life, he admitted, but certainly not free of pain. For hours he went on to tell me things, personal things that I can’t share with you but that seemed perfectly natural to talk about at the time. Neither of us were embarrassed yet both completely honest. It was as if I had known him my entire life. As he told me stories of family deaths, broken marriages, troubled children, unfulfilled dreams, and other personal tragedies, I couldn’t help but choke back the emotion. He had experienced the exact same troubles I had; yet he managed to overcome them and embrace life. When I asked him to explain his unnatural outlook on life, he stared over the water, which was by now glistening with moonlight. The flickering reflection on his face revealed tearful eyes (the kind one gets when he experiences pain and joy at the same time). He smiled even more, then simply whispered, love. He turned to me and went on. When Jesus told his disciples to love others just as they had been loved, I’m sure it took them some time too - to really soak in what he meant. I am just beginning to understand it myself after 40 years. But what if you don’t feel loved? He stopped smiling. That’s so sad. And so common too, I’m afraid. He took a deep breath and began to explain. Most people need to feel loved before they can love others. They live in an endless cycle of perpetual longing, only reacting to someone else’s occasional expression of love. (1) Someone loves them. (2) They feel loved. (3) They love someone else. That’s the cycle. The problem with this cycle, though, is that most people walk around waiting for someone to love them. Who begins the cycle? Beginning to understand something, although I wasn’t sure what it was exactly, I asked; what are we supposed to do then? Love them first. React to God’s love, not man’s love. You be the initiator of love and let others react to you. Just change the cycle, that’s all. I was much too practical for that. This sounds so easy. It can’t be that simple! It is precisely that simple. He was smiling again. You decide one day that you are going to express love toward others rather than wait for them to express it toward you. Why do you think the Bible so clearly tells us that people will know that we have been truly changed by the way we love each other? It is the ultimate mark of God – love. We could barely see each other through the fog as he continued. Listen my young friend, half of my life was wasted waiting for people to love me. It’s time for you to stop living that way. Incidentally, he added. I love you. I didn’t know how to respond. As the dense fog crept in, I curiously asked, When did everything change for you? Although I could no longer see him, I finally recognized him when his fading voice said, I met a familiar old man at the end of the pier, sitting on a bench admiring the sunset and smiling to strangers... http://www.vanguard.edu/faculty/astenhouse/index.aspx?doc_id=2952&Preview=True