Alastair Adams was old. So old, in fact, that the wrinkles on his face were no longer lines, but deep ridges that seemed to fill to the brim with the very substance of joy when he smiled. Alastair Adams was always smiling. When he walked to the park each morning to sit on the rickety bench with the chipped paint – he smiled. When the little swallows swooped over his head and landed like feathers at his feet – he smiled. And most of all, when the wind swept over the pond and gently rustled the leaves of the shady dogwood trees – he smiled.
The townsfolk of Prescott Gulch all knew Alastair Adams, and he knew them. It was common knowledge amongst the little boys that “Age-Old Adams”, as they called him in their decrepit treehouses, had already been 50 years alive when Prescott Gulch was first christened as a town. Each morning, as Alastair Adams ventured out of his “modest mansion”, as he lovingly referred to his miniscule homestead, the people of the Gulch were just waking up. The womenfolk were just rising to gather eggs for breakfast and sweep the invasive dust off the kitchen tables. The menfolk were just stretching aching limbs through the holes of well-worn and faded long johns, and still, many children stirred in light slumber, minds already anxious to begin the day’s shenanigans.
And all the while, Alastair Adams walked, and he smiled while he walked. And when the dishes had been cleared after breakfast, the men were pulling on mud-caked boots and sunbleached hats, the children had already run out of doors to swirl their toes in the cool grass and commandeer sticks to make them into Indian spears. As they ran wildly through the crackling shrubs, they observed Old Alastair from the corners of their bright and wandering eyes, and they liked him. For there was something about the air that surrounded his shoulders and tousled his snowy white hair that felt peaceful and right. In their parents, they saw only anxiety and pain. That was their norm. The ritualistic way in which life in Prescott Gulch played out, from beginning to end. There was worry about the ever-present dust, and because of the dust, there was worry about the crops. And from this anxiety about crops, sprouted a fear of going hungry. And hidden behind this fear of starvation, there was the overarching, all-consuming fear of death. But this fear, this sadness, did not exist within Alastair Adams, and the children did not understand it, but it comforted them greatly.
But on one unusually cool and windy day in Prescott Gulch, where the clouds billowed overhead like weightless boulders, Alastair Adams was not smiling. When the sun was already gaining height in the pale, grey sky, he strolled through the center of town, down the rows of dull-colored houses. The families had already sat down to steaming bowls of breakfast porridge when they spied Alastair Adams through their scratched windows, dragging his feet on his way to the little pond where he simply sat for hours, counting the ripples caused by brown leaves cascading onto the water. The women cleared the dishes and went out of doors to hang the laundry on delicate clotheslines, and the dingy linen flapped loosely in the wind like whispers to the neighbors about what could possibly be the reason for kind old Alastair’s abnormally somber disposition.
All that day, Adams sat silently on that decrepit bench, but the swallows did not fly near him, and the wind did not whistle through the dogwood trees with the same gentle sighing as before. And instead of counting the ripples made by falling leaves, he counted the circles created by his salty tears dropping into the glassy water.
As the sun dipped slowly down from the sky, casting heavy shadows across the creaking porches of every dilapidated house in Prescott Gulch, Alastair Adams remained by the pond. The men, returning from a laborious day’s work of tilling fields and kicking up dust, passed the little park at dusk, and their minds, though exhausted with anxiety about the season’s harvest, found the energy to worry about Good Old Alastair as well. They knew what was happening, the cause of his sorrow, but still hoped it was not true. When they reached their front doors, and their children swarmed about their legs in nervous excitement, they deliberately pushed past them, eager to reach their wives, who would surely offer some motherly comfort concerning the status of Alastair Adam’s mood. Much to their dismay, when the men swept their dainty companions into their stained and grimy arms, and inquired about the old man, they were met with disconcerting explanations.
On that day, thirteen years before, Alastair Adams had lost his wife. She was claimed by time, as time comes to claim all things, living and unliving. And only a year prior, the couple’s son and his family had come in a rusted Ford Model T to visit the Gulch, and on their way back home, they blew a tire on a bumpy dirt highway and lost control, sending the vehicle and all its passengers tumbling down a deep gorge to their demise. All his life, Alastair Adams seemed to be stalked by misery, and yet he never dropped his smile for more than a moment. But on that day, October 26th every year, he merely sat at the pond, tears spilling down his cheeks, ignoring the biting wind, despite the fact that he was shivering terribly.
The children felt the change in the air, and they furrowed their freckled brows at both mother and father as they spoke softly of Age Old Adams. They lingered on the outskirts of their range of hearing and began to be troubled with the thought of the kindly man in distress. Father was always somewhat agitated, on account of lack of rain for the crops. Not a day passed when Mother was not overworked and exhausted from chores and looking after her family. But the old man was different. When Alastair Adams cried, the world wept along with him. When he was troubled, everyone’s lives came screeching to a halt until he was spotted smiling again.
As was done each year on this day, the folk of Prescott Gulch took care of Alastair Adams. The men chopped extra firewood for Old Alastair and stacked it orderly along his little house. The women cooked him delicious, warm food and laid it in fragile glassware on his doorstep. And the children, innocent and gentle, wove delicate crowns made from all the local prairie flowers and weeds, and placed them around the potted plants on his porch.
When their kindly work was done, the townspeople returned silently to their homes, though their hearts were still heavy with worry for the man. One by one, the oil lamps were extinguished and the shutters drawn, but Alastair Adams did not budge. As the darkness deepened, the moon rose steadily, but still, he sat on the bench with the chipping paint, thinking of his past: his wife, his son, and all the unfortunate happenings of his youth.
At dawn, when the world was fresh with the sights and sounds of rebirth, something in Alastair Adams seemed to awaken. The life-giving sun shone bright light on his age-worn cheeks, drying his tears and filling his mind with brightness. His pain faded away from him like the residue of a dream and he remembered the ways he had been blessed. He remembered the way the stars twinkled in the summertime, and the sound of crunching leaves beneath his scuffed shoes, the compassionate love of his neighbors and the sacrifices they made for his well-being. He thought of his dear wife, and of her everlasting peacefulness, even in the darkest of times. And he rediscovered, just as he did every year, that she would not want him to spend what time he had left in sorrow. Rather, she would wish him to be joyous, in spite of the woe found in living. So with her memory, and that of his son alive in his heart, he rose steadily from the warped bench and began the return journey to his small home.
Each family, with tables swept clean and plates set, sat down to the morning meal, and as they ate silently, were interrupted by a sudden knocking at their door. As each wife rose from her table, crossed dusty, distressed floors, and heaved open creaking wooden doors, she was greeted by an unexpected sight. Alastair Adams, bashful smile playing on his lips, stood patiently on the porch.
“Thank you,” he said, “so very much for your kindness and care. It means the world to both me and Roxanne.” And with a slight nod of his head and tears forming in his clear eyes, he departed, and moved on to the next home.
When the wives returned to their quaint kitchens and told their families of Old Alastair’s actions, a calm descended over each household. The children could return to disturbing the grass and climbing the broad trees without a care in the world. The men would find their minds once again preoccupied with issues of farming and growing. The women, however, would think long and deeply on Mr. Adams’s disposition, and their hearts would break and mend themselves again many more times in that day before they came to conclude that he truly was a uniquely joyous spirit.
For Alastair Adams was old. So old, in fact, that his life was beginning to stretch thin, and his misfortunes seemed to outweigh his graces, and yet, he lived, and in each day he chose to find a surplus of blessings.
See your blessings. Find your joy.