For several years, I watched Bernie from a distance. Every day, he walked down our street and looked at the ground, as he passed our house. I never understood why and I never felt inclined to ask. Asking would have meant prying and I am not the prying type.
Bernie lived alone and had for several years. His children were grown, scattered in different areas of the country and rarely visited; as far as my neighbors and I knew, Bernie lived a lonely life with the television being his closest friend. Bernie always wore gray and again, I never asked why. Maybe gray was his favorite color? Maybe gray, merely, matched his age and increasing hair shade?
At the holidays, I always kept Bernie in my thoughts; but in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the time at hand, I never stopped to invite him to dinner or ask him if he had any needs I might be able to address. Selfishly, I think everyone is guilty of being self-consumed from time to time. Three Christmases ago, however, my selfishness changed.
It was a Saturday in mid-December when our region experienced unseasonably cold temperatures for the season; snow was forecast and yet, there was Bernie, walking along the street, as he always did, adorned in his favorite gray suit. As any good neighbor would, I asked Bernie if he wanted a ride to his destination and out of character, he said, “Yes.”
For the first few blocks, Bernie and I said little to each other. That changed when our local radio station began to play “Silver Bells.” Though, I had been focused on driving, I had heard Bernie clear his throat during the first few notes of the song. I gazed in his direction and could tell he had wanted to talk.
“You know, Jill, my Meredith loved this song when we were younger.” Bernie began. “Meredith and I would sit for hours, during the holidays and listen to the song; it was ours and she was mine.”
Then, as he continued, Bernie began to cry. “She passed away, seven years ago, on Christmas Eve; the first song I heard after she passed was Silver Bells.”
I did not know what to say. Suddenly, Bernie’s solitude and favorite color became quite clear. My inquisitive mind, as well as my oft-busy and burdened heart, felt his pain. Bernie did not wear a gray suit; he wore a silver suit: a silver suit to honor his ultimate love until they could be reunited again.
Bernie, who had been walking to the cemetery when I had offered the ride, chose to sit in silence after our discussion. When we arrived at the cemetery, that day, there were two people who paid their respects to Bernie’s beloved, Meredith. With a heavy heart and tear-filled eyes, I proudly stood beside my neighbor and hummed Silver Bells with him, as a tribute to his late-wife. From that day forward, Bernie was no longer known as “The Gray Man” but as a selfless man whose love still lingered at the holidays and throughout the year.
After that day with Bernie, I have never allowed myself to become so busy that I do not take the time to enjoy my friends, family, and neighbors. Life is a precious gift, not just as the holidays, but year-round. Without our friends, our families and our neighbors, our lives would mean little. May we all vow to reach out to our loved ones, this holiday season and always.
© 2007 – Jill Eisnaugle.
All Rights Reserved.
Jill Eisnaugle is the author of Coastal Whispers & Under Amber Skies. She resides in Texas City, Texas with her family and pets.