Looking in the mirror, I sometimes see a small boy looking back at me. The boy looks curious, wondering what his older self has become. How many things did he not foresee?
I remember a story told by a man who was among the few truly great people I have met. It was a story about himself as a boy, a boy who believed he had anticipated the years that lay ahead.
It was a carols by candlelight evening in a pretty little church in the country. Every single seat was taken and there was a wonderful sense of it being a moment that was special.
He had asked not to do a reading, but to tell a story, a personal story.
After a musical piece, he walked up the nave and stood holding both sides of the wooden lectern. He smiled at the congregation and in his soft German accent said, “I would like to tell you a story.”
The story he told came from the Germany of the late-1920s. It told of a small boy’s delight at it being Christmas. It described the scene and the tastes and the mood. It talked about the boy’s joy at receiving a new sleigh as his Christmas present. Allowed to go out of the house in the afternoon, the boy went to a nearby hill where he spent the afternoon pulling the sleigh up the hill and descending with great excitement.
“The boy realized that the sun had set and that it was time to return to his home.
At that moment, the boy realized that he was alone. He realized that he would live alone and that, when he died, he would die alone.
I know that this story is true because that boy is me.”
The storyteller was a hero, a man who was regarded as a friend by all who knew him, a man who was known for his kindness and generosity.
There was a silence in the church. We did not know what to make of the story. Why had it been important? Why had the man whom we so much loved and admired felt that he wanted to tell such a sad story?
I remember standing to announce the next carol and having no words adequate to the moment, nothing that would not sound trite and vacuous.
Had he really anticipated the life he would lead? Had he really realized at such an early age that he would spend years living a solitary existence?
Looking in the mirror, I wish I had had such a gift of prescience.