So there I was, in the park. I’d gotten bored and decided to go out for a little walk, just me and the birds chirping in the breeze. I don’t usually have time to do anything like that, but sometimes you just have to get away, find a bit of quiet, and let nature clear the cobwebs out of your brain. But, I digress. I was walking happily along, minding my own business, when I spotted him. He was sitting alone on a park bench, and he looked to be up there in years, perhaps in his 80s. And, he seemed to be taking an odd interest in me.

“Oh, great,” I thought to myself. “I come here for some exercise, to clear my head, and here’s this old guy watching me like some stalker. I’m probably gonna get mugged or something.”

Of course, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was highly unlikely that some random senior citizen was up to the challenge of attempting to mug me. Besides, what did I really have of value to be mugged over anyway? I kept walking, sticking to the sidewalk, but as I drew nearer to the man something began nagging at the back of my mind. I had no clue what it was, couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but there was something there that I couldn’t explain. As I took a few steps past the occupied park bench I tried my best to keep my gaze down, not make eye contact, and ignore the man. It didn’t work.

I was no further than three steps away when the man began to rise, seemingly struggling to get to his feet. He was obviously weathered and worn, much like an old leather sofa after years of heavy use. I began to panic, of course. I didn’t know what to expect. But I didn’t expect him to step in front of me and stop short, a smile on his face.

“So, it IS you,” he said to me.

“Excuse me? I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”

“No,” he replied. “I know it’s you. I can see it in your face. That overwhelmingly heavy look in your eyes. The same one I used to have.”

I stepped to the side to move along, but the man caught me by the arm. He began talking, calling me by name, which utterly confused the crap out of me. Who was this guy?

“Listen,” he began. “I know that sometimes life seems overwhelming. It seems like sometimes things try to spin out of control and you have to center yourself. That’s why you’re out here walking. I know, I used to do it, too. But I came here to tell you not to give up. It’s all worth it in the end. All of the struggle, all of the stress, all of the pain, all of the loss. All of it. Everything. It’s worth it. Just keep walking the path you’re on. Keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t surrender.”

“What do you me…” I started to ask, but he interrupted me with a raised hand.

“No questions. Just heed my words. And one day, when it’s your turn to stand here, remember all of the good times. Never lose sight of those, because that’s what all of this is for. That’s why you’re going through everything.. so that you can have those good times.”

He glanced over his shoulder, looked back and me and winked, a smile playing at the corners of his lips.

“I’ll be seeing you soon, son. Don’t forget.”

And with that, he just sort of vanished. It was more of a shimmer, like you see in some of the old science fiction television shows. But one moment he was there, and the next he wasn’t. I was left trying to figure out what had just happened, who this man was, and how he knew my name. That was 30 years ago. During that 30 years I’ve been through a lot of trials. I’ve faced many tribulations, temptations,dark periods.. but I never forgot those words.

Today, 30 years later, I found myself at the park, sitting on a bench, waiting for a man who wouldn’t know me… yet.