We had taken our teenage twin boys and four of their friends to the beach for their sixteenth birthday. It was early (for teenagers anyway) so my wife Kimberly and I had taken a bike ride on a couple of cruisers that were under the house.
It was sunny on a balmy May day when we spotted a wooden footbridge down at the end of a street. It crossed the inland waterway and was about as long as half a football field. It arched from the wild of marsh and beach into a middle class neighborhood. Fascinated we parked the rusty bikes and went for a stroll.
An older couple, gray and a little unsteady were crabbing down below on a small square of dock. A white egret fed in the distance. Modest piers were home to modest boats of various configurations.
It was quiet. After crossing and walking a block we realized we’d been gone a while and the kids are probably wondering where we are. We turned to cross back over at a faster pace. I remember thinking how I love the sound when your tennis shoes hit the two by fours of a wooden bridge when I spotted an older white haired gentleman we had greeted in passing on the way over the bridge.
He seemed small sitting there on a bench in the midst of the flora and fauna of a quiet marsh His hands were clasped between his legs, shoulders drooping forward. Then I realized that he was weeping. I didn't hesitate but stepped over to him with out raised arms and held him about the shoulders in the best hug I could with me standing. He tensed for a millisecond then rested his head in the nape of my neck. I could feel the tears and his day old bristle. I let him weep.
I knew my wife had stopped because I could no longer feel her footfalls. I sensed her returning and dropped to a knee. The old man muttered “ thank you … thank you.” Finally, when it felt right I stood, as there was not room to sit.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “My wife has died and I’m having a bad day. We were married for fifty-six years. Some days I’m ok. Then there are days like this when I miss her so. My son lives down the way. I’m here visiting with the grandchildren.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for my friend. We know all about grief. I’m just glad that we happened by.” I said.
We stayed and talked to Art for a while. He told us about Margaret. Then he told us about his wonderful church and all the friends that looked after him. He showed us pictures of his grandchildren.
We told Art that our son was battling cancer so he would know that we were brothers and sisters in grief and that we are never alone. We told Art we loved him until a tall man with a graying short beard came earnestly walking onto the bridge. I knew by his energy of haste and concern that he was Art’s son.
We all exchanged pleasantries until it was time to go.
“The children will be missing us so we should go.”
Son and father thanked us. We told them we were just glad that we had happened by when we did.
As we passed back over the bridge I spoke to God.
“Thank you Father, for Art and this time in nature to heal. Thank you Father for all of those who have held us in our tears and let us rest our head in the nape of their neck as our sorrow bled into them. Thank you Father for each breath we breathe and the memory of our loved ones. Thank you most of all for my sons who are waiting. Please let them live so that the day can come when they walk onto a bridge with love and concern looking for their wayward and earthly Father.
Peace to all …