A Sidewalk Encounter: A Very Short Story


Once there was a young man who felt blessed to be living in the time that he was. Every day he was thankful that he was a part of what truly was the early beginning of a new era. His instructions at the university taught him many new things that heretofore had been unknown. With new knowledge and understanding, his perception and awareness of the world went through profound changes. He made it a point to teach and share this new knowledge and understanding.

One day, the young man was walking through town and noticed an old man sitting beside the sidewalk. This wasn’t the first or the second time he noticed the old man. This particular time he pitied him more than at any one before.

The young man approached the old man curious as to why he chose to sit instead of stand, keep silent instead of speak, and observe instead of engage with the humanity that passed him. The young man started by quizzing the old man on the latest works of art, philosophy and literature.

“They are classics already! The things these men can do with their hands, wit and intellect is unprecedented. We live in great times!”

The old man barely seemed to acknowledge what the young man was saying.

Undeterred the young man continued. “Haven’t you heard about the foreign king? There has never been any like him. A dreadful man who will stop at nothing to expand his kingdom’s borders! No people have ever encountered such a foul despot. These are dreadful times!”

Again, the old man failed to give a satisfactory response.

“Don’t you know we have a new king? This one is great. He speaks wonderfully and promises a better world. Haven’t you heard of this man? He is quite famous already. Many say he is the best king we have ever had. Surely no man like him has existed. How fortunate we are that he lives during our time!”

The only reaction from the old man was a nod and a slight shrug of his shoulders.

It finally dawned on the young man that the old man was certainly a whine-head.

The young man offered some of his wine, but the old man did not accept.

The young man sang the newest melody but the old man did not dance.

Exasperated, the young man finally asked, “Old man, why do you just sit there? Don’t you know life is passing you? What has happened that has made you give up? Do you not know anything?

“I’ve tried to enlighten you about the world around you but you sit still and dumb as a stone!

“I offered my wine but you refused.

“I sang a song for you but you refused to dance.

“I’ve tried to engage you in conversation, move you out of your tragic state but you refused to budge.

“Don’t you want to learn more about life?”

The old man raised his head and finally acknowledged the youngster’s presence.

“I did not drink your wine because it is bad for my blood pressure.

“I did not dance to your song because it was terrible, and you aren’t a very good singer.

“I’ve heard of your artists, philosophers and writers but their works and ideas are not new. They are only a reintroduction; a reproduction of the ones forgotten.

“I’ve heard of this foreign king. He seems perfectly reasonable and not at all outstanding as far as foreign kings are known to behave.

“I’ve heard of our new king but at my age, I’ve seen many kings and this one does not sound any different than all the ones who came before him.

“I sit here by this sidewalk because this is how I learn. I meet fools everyday who think they have so much to teach. Always in a hurry for converts to this or that new idea, though the ideas are only new for the reason they just learned them.”

Insulted the young man asked, “You did not learn anything from our encounter?”

“No, I did not. At my age there is only affirmation.” The old man said it more with his eyes than his words.

“And what has been affirmed for you today, old man?” the young man asked.

“There have always been more fools than teachers in this world.”


3 thoughts on “A Sidewalk Encounter: A Very Short Story

  1. One of the curses, dangers, or at least challenges of growing old is coming to believe we have it all figured out and that not everyone we meet has something to teach us one way or another.

    Same as the curses, dangers, or at least challenges of any other age, I reckons.

    Poor old bastard. Jules

  2. I’ve been thinking more about this post as I worked on a project this morning that defies conventional wisdom and everything about it is contrary to something more-or-less fundamental ‘everyone’ knows to be true. They might be right. But their reasons for believing they’re right have nothing to do with any original thinking they’ve done on the matter. Someone sometime convinced the people around him it was true, they convinced others, and somewhere along the line the thinking lost contact with the source and the matter was no longer up for grabs.

    Most of what each of us ‘knows’ came to our state of knowing by similar routes. Anonymous strangers did the original heavy thinking, people we have no reason to trust, no way to know their motives. But once we ‘know’ something it’s damned difficult to listen when someone who knows something different begins to say so.

    So we have our own package of knowings and nobody who knows something else is going to listen to them, and they have their packages of knowings we aren’t about to learn anything from unless we’re able to give up our own long enough to force a state of listening into our being.

    Interestingly, when we do, there’s one hell of a lot to be learned, even though we already know it ain’t true.

  3. I guess it’s not much different than how two people can read the same thing and come to two totally different conclusions. Such as the Gospel of Mark 16:16, the second clause to the 2nd Amendment or a map even. If new learning goes against what we know, then that new learning becomes a bad idea. I think maybe ideology or pathology may be a strong substitute for knowledge.

    My idea of the old man wasn’t necessarily to make him stubborn but was to more or less show that he too was probably once like the young man. In a hurry with a firm grasp on truth and the “now.” The old man, meanwhile, had seen many different kinds of truths, ideas and “nows” and knew they usually come full circle if you live long enough. But I like what you said at the end, and I’ll apply it to story. The old man probably understood most of what he learned and the young man was only then learning, wasn’t true or new.

    It was interesting understanding and chewing on your interpretation. Weird how that story just sort of fell in my lap. I had no choice but to post it once it did.

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