Courage

They were opposites as black and white are opposites. One was fast, the other slow. One was lively, the other grave. One was young, the other old.

The child in the green baseball cap pulled on his grandfather’s sleeve, eagerly pointing towards the metal monolith at the center of the playground. But old men were rarely hurried, and this man was very old. His hair was the white of winter’s first snow, his frame long and thin like a stick bug. He walked with a stately confidence, like a warrior proud in his victories, or a king surveying his lands. In another life, he might have been a sprinter, quick and agile, or a marathon runner, lean and steady. Now, he was just an old man.

Giving up and letting go of his grandfather’s sleeve, the child ran ahead on his own, stopping as he reached the beautiful glinting gray object of his truest desires. No older than four, the boy was pudgy, and excitable. Along with his favorite green hat, he wore a wide, happy grin wherever he went, and tended to be the center of everyone’s attention and adoration.

The child waited impatiently for the old man to make his way down the brick path, across the sandbox, and finally, after what seemed like a lifetime of slow, careful footsteps, to that finest product of great and powerful metalworkers of the past– the slide. As his grandfather reached the slide, the child gestured to be picked up. Slowly, with creaking back and shuddering knees, the old man lifted the boy up in his arms and placed him at the top of the slide.

Inching forward along the top until he was positioned on the incline, the child gripped the handrails tightly, and glanced tentatively over the side of the slide at the staggering height. He hesitated. The old man spoke, his words coming slowly, patiently. The boy looked down uncertainly. He shook his head, and gestured to be taken down.  The man spoke again, his words as quiet as the wind. The child shook his head no, and gestured to be taken down. The old man sighed, and plucked the child from the metal monolith, placing him carefully down in the sand. The boy looked down ashamedly.

The old man gave the child a weary look, and turned away, beginning a slow trek towards the little copse of trees at the back of the park. The child caught up with him and reached up to take his hand. Hand-in-hand, they made their way across the huge park lawn, stopping every now and then to inspect a worm or rock hidden in the grass. Each time they stopped, the boy would bend down and point emphatically at his find. The old man would slowly bend his knees, folding in on himself like an origami crane, towards the boy’s short, pudgy frame, and add his own stately commentary on the boy’s newest treasure. Then, like an unfurling morning glory, he would rise up to his full height once more, and continue his solemn journey towards the trees.

Suddenly noticing something of interest up ahead, the child pulled once more on his grandfather’s arm, urging him onward. But old men were rarely hurried, and this man was very old. His knees creaked like rotting porch steps, and though he still walked straight and upright, his heart allowed him only a measured pace. In another life, he might have been a builder, strong and lively, or a hunter, sure-footed and keen-eyed. Now, he was just an old man.

Giving up and letting go of the old man’s hand, the child ran ahead, stopping as he reached the gnarled, leafy object of his truest desires, an old and hardy walnut tree. He circled his stationary quarry, rubbed his hands along its rough bark, marveled at its high branches, and proceeded to wait impatiently for his grandfather to appear once more.

As the old man reached the tree, the boy gestured again to be lifted up, this time onto the tree’s thick boughs. With back complaining and arms shaking, the old man lifted the child up, and placed him on top of the widest branch. The boy laughed and clapped his hands, and then, as he looked down at the staggering height, his eyes grew wide and round.

The old man gave his grandchild an expectant look. The child sternly shook his head no. The old man spoke, his words as patient as the mountains. The child shook his head again, and hugged the tree branch beneath him, wrapping his small, pudgy arms as far as they would go around its significant bulk. The old man shrugged, and turned away, beginning his slow walk back towards the grassy field, towards the slide, towards home.

The boy called out, looked down at the ground far beneath him, called out again. The old man turned back towards his grandson, and waited. Slowly, carefully, gingerly, the child positioned himself on the branch, bent his knees… and hesitated. The old man spoke once more, taking a step back towards the boy on the branch, offering his arms for the boy to grasp onto. The child shook his head once more, and without waiting for his grandfather to reach him, leapt off the branch towards the soft grass beneath the tree.

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