06 March 2018

Empty benches have amazing stories

Whenever I see an empty bench I remember the Simon and Garfunkel song, ‘Old Friends.’  It painted a vivid picture of old people, men. I first heard it when I was 16 and thoughts of old age and aging were the farthest from my mind. It took me to the impossible; that of being 70, to which I am closer now than I am to 16. 

I don’t feel the fears of a seventy year old yet, but I can imagine it all much better now. I don’t wait for the sunset in the ways a 70 year old would, but I can imagine the waiting. 

Let’s visit bits and pieces of the song, like old newspapers blowing by us, like words and silences blowing our minds away. 

‘Sat on a park bench like bookends. Sounds of the city sifting through the trees settle like dust on the shoulders of the old friends. Old friends…memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears. Long ago . . . it must be . . .I have a photograph; preserve your memories —they’re all that's left you.’

A park bench or any bench for that matter is of course not the preserve of the old. They are temporary residences to all kinds of people.  Lovers, for example.

Something about benches makes me think of waiting. Someone with someone and someone waiting for someone else.  What goes through the minds and hearts of those who wait, I ask myself. Do benches have memories of those who sat on them, the words they said and the words they should have said but didn’t for whatever reason, I ask myself.  

There are benches everywhere, I feel. Bus halts are benches. Beaches, a random restaurant or coffee shop, a verse, a book of verses, a napkin on which someone scribbled something, a fragrance, a melody or a flavor; all these are benches if you think about it.

No, they are not dismal places, for not all conversations or moments are melancholy and about (impending) absences. There’s delight and even if the delighted move on to other delights or oblivion, their places are often taken by those as enchanted by special moments and togethernesses.  

There is, therefore, another way of looking at empty benches.  Places soon to be inhabited by young lovers, carefree friends, random musicians, radicals plotting rebellion, kids playing chess, random strangers discovering commonalities and who knows who else? What they hear I do not know; what silences brush their senses, I do not know; what songs they heard or missed, I do not know; where they came from and where they will go, I do not know.  

It’s just lovely that they are there, these benches and these people, both nondescript but so very identified at and by the given moment.  

There is a breeze that’s washing this bench. Some leaves gather and move as they have done before and will do tomorrow too. There’s music and most likely it’s not been heard by many, those who have been here and those who are yet to arrive. From across the lane there wafts the fragrance-mix of incense and flowers blending with the chanting of the thun sutra. There’s a number written on these things, but I can’t read it clearly. Perhaps it says 16, perhaps 70, or maybe if I were to de-code it the legend ‘ageless’ might surface.

I sense that among the emotions that have tarried awhile in this place there must have been love and fear, sorrow and a sense of the endless and ending. I sense they’ll revisit one day.

If I close my eyes (which I haven’t and will not) and then open again, I might see an ordinary bench. Nothing romantic about it. But then again, who knows, just as it invites me to sit, it might whisper ‘sit if you wish, but remember, this is sacred territory simply because it is made of memories, love and poetry that will never get written.’

Other articles in this series (written for the Daily News and the Sunday Observer:

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com.  www.malindawords.blogspot.com