Life’s long journey

Stopping by the mall on a snowy evening.

Robert Frost I’m not. In his poem, he was “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” He was on horseback. I had taken the car.

The nuns made us memorize the poem. It was the first thing they made us recite by rote that wasn’t a prayer, a multiplication table or the pledge of allegiance:

“Whose woods these are I think I know. / His house is in the village though; / He will not see me stopping here / To watch his woods fill up with snow.”

I’ve become something I never thought I would become. I am now a mall walker, at least since the cold weather arrived.

Yep. I am one of those with the determined look marching my way through the cornucopia of the consumer culture. I generally bypass the shoppers. I nod to my fellow walkers.

I noticed right away that most of them are fellows. I’m not sure why. We never really talk. Guys, you know.

But not one of us has a notion of reviving a basketball dream. Maybe they are just trying to get the blood circulating. I’m sure some of them are widowers looking to fill the day.

Me? I’m trying to make up for a sedentary career. I feel better when I exercise, though every motion reminds me that age is a nasty master.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not pining for a long-lost youth. Lord, no. One of the businesses in the mall where I walk is a fitness chain. I don’t go near the door. It’s for the young people that flood the joint when the day is done.

They are all jacked-up on nervous self-absorption. They think too much of work. And what they are doing with tonight rather than with tomorrow. Or eternity. We were all there. But who in their right mind would want to go back once that is over? Fifty-five again? Tempting. Twenty-five again? Never.

I was reminded of all that the other evening. It was a few weeks shy of Christmas, and the mall Santa was the busiest guy in the place.

It was “Pet Pictures with Santa” night. I tried not to break pace as two parrots were carefully placed on Santa’s outstretched hands, palms down. The look on his face told me that his “ho, ho, ho” had got up and went.

Another of the businesses I walk past is a career-training operation. Most weekday nights, they have classes going on. The young people aren’t studying world history or classical philosophy. These are classes — computer stuff, medical assistance — meant for the practical. Earn your tuition back fast.

As I walked past the display window that evening, I noticed that one young lady was in there with who I assumed was an instructor. I trundled past, and then I thought, “Was she crying?”

When I circled back, the girl was still in there, the instructor leaning forward from her chair listening sympathetically. And she was still crying.

I was reminded of the scene in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” where the dead lament because “they sought to interfere for good in human matters, and had lost the power forever.”

I knew what he meant. That young woman was crying and there I was, just an old geezer on the other side of the window who could do nothing about her problems.

Maybe I would have told her that in our 20s anything can seem like the end of the world. But it isn’t. Faith rebuilds everything. Because nothing is impossible with God.

Frost finished his poem:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.”

It is those miles — and those promises — we have to explain to a 20-something in tears.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.