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Sample from Talking To My Former Self
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By Brian Weilert

I stood in the long shadow of an ancient elm watching me, young Timmy Spouten, sittin’ in the distance on that all-too-familiar, stone bridge, feet dangling over the side.  There was a morning chill in the air and the leaves were just starting to turn, beautiful reds, oranges and yellows. I watched as I had a crooked stick in my hand and I was making shapes in the smooth dirt that collected at the side of the road.   Even though hidden under the worn Van Halen hoodie, I could tell I was a bit pudgy but not as fat as I remembered…maybe the obesity-bar lowers as we grow older; fat gets redefined.  I try to remember this particular day so as to know what I was thinking but nothing materialized.  Maybe it was because during that final year, I had walked the mile or so, to the outskirts of town too often to sit at this very bridge to think…lament…plot.   It was hard to tell as it had been fifty years, but I looked to be about 14, close to the time it all happened…with greasy bangs hanging down over my eyes, a few well-placed zits on my chin, but this time…this time, I wasn’t covered in blood.

So, it appeared I was in time to stop it all, I hoped.    I was only allowed to return because I made a promise to come back and try to right my wrong. I had to swear on my life…but it wasn’t like I hadn’t begged to for years.  How many times had I been in my cell, knees grinding the concrete floor, crying out to some omnipotent being to take it all back?   “I didn’t mean to do it!”   I prayed that if I could just go back…go back to before it all happened, I could change everything.   When I made these pleas, what I really wanted was for them to make me young again…let me relive my youth; create an alternate future to the one I now burdened; not this.  Not a worn-down old man going back… How was I to convince a teenage boy that the path he was choosing would lead to….well, it would lead to me?   


I gathered my courage as I scuffled down the road, feet dragging gravel.  I thought I always knew what I would say if given the opportunity, but as the boy looks up in reaction to the noise, I see his eyes are red, puffy and his cheeks glistening wet and I all of my preplanned words disappear…vapor. I am slammed against the wall of my past…pain resurfacing as if I were 14, sitting on the bridge.  The boy must have noticed my reaction as he asks, “Are you okay mister?” 

Was I okay?  Asked by a boy who in just a short time would do a horrible thing.  Was I okay?  I was always too sensitive. As a kid I used to think I was more empathetic than anyone my age, but as I grew to manhood, I learned I was more in tune with others emotions more than anyone of any age.  It physically sickened me to see others hurt...feel them hurt.  How ironic the pain I now feel is for the boy I see before me, and his pain lies in what he sees as a misplaced, lonely old man.  

I thought about an art project I was so proud of that junior high year, where I drew man holding a painting of the same man holding the painting…of the man holding a painting…and so on until I had to use a magnifying glass and a pencil so sharp that the slightest of pressure would snap the tip.  Infinity…and I wondered if our pain, we now shared, was like that…seeing him hurt made me hurt more which made him hurt more which made me hurt more…and so on.  I’m not sure why this came to mind.  Maybe because it was the last positive thing from that year I can remember.  I was praised by Mr. Laswell, my favorite teacher, a man who always knew just what to say to make students feel special…and that meant more to me than anything.  I used to think I would grow up and be a teacher just like him; that I could help kids too.   The thought made me smile a bit and this slight upturn of my mouth broke the cycle of despair as the boy on the bridge smiled back. 

I closed within a few feet and could tell he had no idea of who I was…he could not see himself in me.  How could he?  At 14 we all think we will grow to be athletic, handsome men driving cherry-red Ferraris…not grey-bearded, fat, bald men who walk as their mode of transportation.

I was slightly amazed the boy-me wasn’t afraid…wasn’t I a menacing, strange man hovering above him?  I could snatch him up, cause him harm.  But he just raised one hand to shield his eyes from the sun that was cresting the horizon behind me and said, “What brings you down this road?  Never seen anybody out here before.”  Maybe he sensed I meant him no harm, in fact I know he sensed it…I would have.  

I knew better than to lie as he would have picked up on that in a second; so in tune were we.   I ventured something close to the truth, “Just out here trying to find myself…you know?”

“Yeah, I know.  That’s sort-of why I come out here.”

“So, you come out here often?”

“Yeah, from time to time…do I know you?”

Again I was afraid to lie so I came as close to the truth as I could.  “Maybe in a former life kid.”

“Maybe.”  He looked as if he remembered something and scooted to face me.   Guilt was the look if I had to name it.  “You have a name mister?”

Again the truth, “Tim.”

“Really?  Weird.”

Of course, I didn’t ask him why.

“You mind if I sit?   Do you like stories?”  I knew that he did.  My mother was a fantastic story teller and could captivate me for hours…I didn’t have hours.

“I suppose…but I really need to be getting to school.”

“I know…but it will keep.”  I sat down beside him.  “You know, my mother was a wonderful story teller...”

“Mine too!”

“Isn’t that interesting?  Well, this story is based on an old Buddist Parable.”

“Okay.”  He sounded unsure.

“It’s the parable of the Mustard Seed.   It revolves around a mother who lost her child at a very young age.  She was so sad at his death that she was unwilling to accept it.  So, she carried him to her neighbors, house-to-house, begging for someone to give her medicine to bring him back to life.  She said she could not suffer the pain any longer.  It was more than she could bear.  She felt alone as if the world could not understand.  None of them could help, but the last suggested she seek out Buddha for help.  She brought the body of her son to him and again pleaded to bring him back…that her pain was too much to bear.  He instructed her to go back to her village and gather mustard seeds from all the households who have never been touched by agony, suffering and death.  From those mustard seeds he promised he would make a medicine to bring her son back to life and ease her misery.  Relieved, she returned to her village and did as he had instructed and began asking for seeds.  All the neighbors wanted to give her the mustard seeds but could not as all of their homes had been touched by pain, suffering and death…telling her, “The living are few, but the dead are many.”

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