It was a cool windy afternoon but I decided to go for a walk anyway. I knew that the path across the headland and down to the beach would be deserted on an afternoon like this and, in my present mood; I would prefer to not meet anyone I knew. I just wanted to be alone.
I had just celebrated, and that is the wrong use of that word, my sixty fifth birthday two weeks ago and one week later had to retire from my job where I had worked for the past thirty five years. I felt old, unwanted and useless.
Right out at the end of the headland, high above the ocean, there was a wooden bench next to the path. I had sat on this bench many times in the past, in all seasons and all weathers. It had become like an old friend to me; somewhere where I could internally discuss my problems, rejoice in my triumphs or just sit and enjoy the view. It always listened in silence, never complained or was critical.
As I approached today the bench was outlined against a leaden sky that was dressed in ragged white clouds and adorned by screeching white seagulls that soared and dipped in the wind. To my relief there was nobody there.
I sat down and gazed out over the ocean. White horses chased each other endlessly all the way to the horizon. Patches on the water were alternately rippled and flattened by gusts of wind. The air was full of the noise of the birds, the crash of the waves on the rocks below me, the sigh of the wind as it carried the salty spray over the land and the sense of the timeless battle of the ocean against the land.
I was so entranced by the view, whilst at the same time, lost in the mire of my emotions that I did not notice him until he was right in front of me. He smiled and said, ‘Do you mind if I join you?’ At first I was so distracted by his appearance that I did not reply. He was very old with a bushy white beard, long straggly white hair and dressed in an old fashioned crumpled woollen suit. He was bent over with both hands resting on a black cane with a large silver top. Stirring myself I motioned for him to sit.
We sat in silence for fully ten minutes before he suddenly said, ‘You look like a man with a lot on his mind.’ Afterwards I was never sure why these simple words opened the floodgates within me. I told this stranger things that I could not talk to my friends or even my wife about. I was terrified of the future and the creeping destruction that old age would bring to what I had been and still thought of myself as.
When I had finished he said, ‘Each day think of tomorrow as a new country that you have never visited. Do not be afraid, be excited about the new things you will see and experience. It may not be familiar to you and you may not be able to do all the things you do today but do not turn your back on it because of that. Life is a series of adventures that are waiting to be explored. The day you stop and look only to the past is the day you really start to grow old. You cannot change the past but the story of tomorrow is yet to be written.’
As soon as he had finished he stood up and said he had to go. I stood next to him, shook his hand, thanked him and asked if he would give me his name. He gave me another of his shy smiles and said, ‘Rupert Rudolph Rumpstead. My parents never did apologise.’ With a smile that almost turned into a laugh he turned and walked off slowly down the path. I watched until he was out of sight.
I sat back down on the bench and it was few moments before I realised that now I was just enjoying the view. Ideas of what I might do during my retirement filled my head.
Just as I stood up to go my pullover caught on a rough patch on the back of the seat. As I disentangled it I realised that it was caught on the edge of an old plaque that had been painted over. I had never noticed it before. With some difficulty I read, ‘This bench is dedicated to the memory of Rupert R Rumpstead. A man who lived life to the full.’ It was then dated October 14 1928.