During the earliest years of my life, my family lived in Grandmother’s old farmhouse just outside the crossroads village of Grassfield, Virginia. One summer evening during the final weeks we lived there, Dad and Mom and I sat with my little brother on the brick front steps of the house. Supper was over and the dishes washed. The day was far spent but it was not quite full dark. The crickets and cicadas chirred without letup, and the humid air was filled with the aroma of new-cut grass. Lightning-bugs flickered by the thousands. My parents talked quietly between themselves about matters above my head while I periodically chimed in with chirpy questions typical of a four-year-old boy. At the foot of the front yard, we could see the gray ribbon of Cedar Road as it wound past the house, crossed a short bridge over a creek, curved sharply, and disappeared over a rise in the direction of Grassfield.
In the distance, walking toward us across the bridge, a lone dark figure appeared. We could just barely make him out in the gathering dark, and then only because he was smoking a cigar that glowed like a distant star. It was just a man walking from somewhere to someplace. Whatever he had been doing, whatever he was thinking, where he was heading, were all mysteries. “There’s a man coming up the road yonder,” said my dad quietly. We watched silently as the distant figure walked past the front edge of Grandmother’s property in the firefly darkness. In a few minutes he passed beyond our line of sight and we resumed talking.
Outside the consolations of religious faith, every person’s life is something like the appearance of that unknown man. We enter the world out of eternity, pass through life for a minute, and then disappear, having experienced one seemingly random event after another. And then the rest of life goes on. For some of us, often upon reaching middle age, the time comes to step back, take stock of life in general, and claim one’s share of the human story before disappearing from sight.