CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©
I was twenty. The man standing on the corner told me he was ninety-two. I wasn’t interested in his age, but he told me anyway. He was proud of reaching ninety-two and proud that he was still preaching at that age.
We were standing at a street corner in Greencastle, Indiana, at Depauw University, the site of the now defunct August continuing education conference for Indiana Methodist preachers. It was called The School of the Prophets.
It was a hot afternoon, but he was dressed in a black suit and white shirt. I was wearing the then-current college student uniform of a vertically striped shirt and Oxford-style tan pants, with the buckle in the back.
He said he had driven over from Indianapolis just for the day. He asked me where the conference was being held. I told him, pointed “that way,” but he made no move in that direction, just stood there.
He didn’t really seem interested in going to a conference session. He just wanted to be close by, to feel like he was still part of “the goodly fellowship of the prophets,” to tell a brand-new preacher how he had survived all those years.
He told me his name, but I did not hear it. I did not want to listen to him. His hair was white and his teeth were yellow. His skin was wrinkled and his clothes were old. What did we have in common? Both preachers, but his time was over, and mine was just starting.
I left him on the corner and went back to my friends inside the walls of now.
That slight chance encounter still haunts me. I was not outwardly rude or unkind to him, but I was not interested in him and his story. That might be the unkindest act of all, the non-act of not listening. He is not the last story I failed to hear, but his was the first. I have spent more time wondering about him through the years than it would have taken me to listen to him.
He was born in 1865. If he started preaching at nineteen, as I did, he started only 19 years after the Civil War ended. What stories he must have lived. What stories I could tell now if I had listened to him.
Now I am the old man on the corner. I stop young people and ask them where the action is, what is going on inside the walls of now. I listen to their stories. It doesn’t take long; their stories are short.
That is one of the chief responsibilities of old people, listening to the stories of the young. That is how they find out who they are and what they want to be.
If I listen well enough, they might even want to hear how I survived all these years, might want to listen to the old man on the corner.
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