The old man, hooded and hunched, long partial from a stroke; toils away in his backyard. For fifteen years I have observed his struggle from the frame of my kitchen window. Often, I quickly do the dishes in the stainless double sink. From above I watch. Never once have we shared a look at each other. He has never looked up or paid attention to anything but his work. With his good arm he drags and wields rakes, picks, scrapers and shovels. He tends to like holes. Digging and filling on he goes. Sometimes he grooms around over pruned plantings. Nothing survives his labor as he is out all day every day. A casual observer may think he is landscaping or gardening which he is not. The process seems to supercede any results. Could he be trying to will his weak side to recover by laboring with what is left.
Occasionally he gets put the hose, mostly for the experience I gather. The watering can occur while its raining and well into the cold of winter. I see him as a monastic prisoner in an asylum or hermitage. Though married to a dark clothing clad wife who also has never noticed me, her neighbor. She rarely seems to communicate with him, making me wonder that maybe he can't. Perhaps there is nothing of value worth discussing. Perhaps in his partial paralysis he has found an enlightened state.
Where I see useless busy work, he may find freedom and respite. Outside, alone; he is occupied and autonomous. He may exist in a perpetual meditative state by playing with his tools while working his small square of earth and patio of concrete. Improvement and or mastery may simply be illusory. Perhaps, a level of liberated acceptence exists or perhaps his lack of abilities is his ever present tormentor. A reminder of a past where once youthful, capable and able. His aluminum cane balances on the hose. I see our shared mortality in his witness.
Surely he will eventually die, maybe if he ever stops and his tools go idle. Perhaps he will die on his square of grass some day. Perhaps on this day, I will be first to notice. Should I take over his work? Would it be best for me to dig his grave right there? Keeping his work alive while using his tools to mark the time between my own expiration.
To work is to live, often in suffering, unappreciated, unnoticed and with little improvement to the world. Pain is a measurement that we train in ourselves as character. While his penitential cross and witness ceased in the form of his labor. When he expires, I will look on to an empty yard; never knowing him or his name beyond the security of his shuffling work.