Friday, November 28, 2014

Under a Willow Tree

Under a willow tree on a white sand beach, I was sitting on a wooden bench looking out to the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico.

I was at Fort de Soto Park just outside Saint Petersburg, Florida, waiting for an old friend to show up. After a couple of years in the low hills of Atlanta, I had decided to have a change of scenery, and the bright blue sky merged with the silvery blue sea bordered with fine white sand lined with uncouth grass and bushes and disheveled palm trees was a welcome sight for my eyes.

I was sitting on a wooden bench in the shade of a pale green willow tree, savoring the quietness of an uncommercial beach. No expensive hotels, no luxurious resorts, no fancy restaurants here. Only the murmuring soft surf and the occasional seagull cries broke the silence. Once in a while a couple of joggers following the trail passed by and nodded me a smile.

Did the wind that was blowing right into my face come all the way from Mexico? Did the birds that were gracefully gliding their curved wings above my head fly from another land where a different language was spoken? And that dark, hulking cargo ship slowly passing by in the bay, where did it come from and where was it heading to? The atmosphere itself carried a whiff of the exotic here, where a different history sat on the land and Spanish names snugly resided on nearby street signs.

My old friend just appeared around a bend in the path leading from the beach to a parking lot. He was carrying a plastic shopping bag, which must be our lunch he'd just got from a deli in town. Short, gaunt and smiling, he did not change much since the last time we had met.

A handshake, then he sat down beside me under the willow tree. How's life treating you, old buddy? How's your daughter doing, is her autism getting any better? And your wife, is the cancer still retreating? Do you still work two jobs to make ends meet?

The whims of life had thrown us together three decades ago in a classroom which was now just a faded memory, but the long years of continuing friendship gave us a lot to talk about. Friends we hadn't heard from for years; dreams we hadn't thought of for even more years. What we had gained, what we had lost, and what we could still expect from our lives ahead. We left the bench and took a long walk along the beach, breathing in the briny sea air, pressing our toes into the sand, watching people swimming or just relaxing under colorful umbrellas.

We stopped at a pavilion and bought a shaved ice each, which reminded us of our childhood when shaved ice was about the only treat affordable on our meager and irregular spending money. We leisurely enjoyed the sight and sounds of a public beach on a weekend. Then out of the blue he said:

- I feel so tired, like a candle burned from both ends. I can't remember the last time I had some time for myself.

When we parted, we had a tight handshake, and that was all I could offer my best friend.

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