Mental Experiments With Total Strangers

I took a walk with my family over to the Hoboken pier last night. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra was playing in the park. Popular favorites… West Side Story, I think I heard some Ravel.

As we approached the lawn we walked past an older Indian couple, probably early 60s, walking along the water. The man looked distinguished—bald on top with a scholarly beard, neatly dressed, confident and wordly in his stride. His wife was pretty. We nodded at one another.

I admired this man. I thought, I’d like to be like this man someday. Or maybe even now. It seemed like he had something figured out. Here he was, enjoying some culture on the waterfront with his wife on a peaceful night.

Wait a minute. This is exactly what I was doing. Why did it seem different? True, they didn’t have a 7 month old with them. But my daughter was fast asleep in the stroller, no big.

He just seemed to understand something. Like he was not worried, he was simply enjoying life’s goodness in a patient and deeply appreciative way. A hummingbird, penetrating straight to the nectar.

Obviously part of this had to do with the fact that he was older. Older seems wiser. But why would I want to be a man twice my age? This doesn’t seem right. Do you have to get that much closer to death, or survive that many more of life’s trials to truly appreciate this quaint little evening? It seems crazy, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to know what he knew.

Then I began to wonder, what did he think of me as we crossed paths?

Maybe he was envying me in a similar way. Maybe he was wishing he were 30 years younger and just starting out his family life again. All the things he would have done differently. All the opportunity I have in front of me that I can’t possibly appreciate or take full advantage of until it’s too late.

This is one of life’s more confounding qualities. You get older and you learn things, but they are not nearly as useful to you as they would have been if you had learned them earlier.

So who cares? What is the point of any of this babbling? It could be this: the only thing that matters in life is the moment. Maybe the more time you spend thinking about life, the less time you spend actually living it. That awesome guy probably didn’t even notice me and I need to stop speculating about total strangers.