A Simple Question for a Man of Another World

I LEFT THE HOUSE with no real plan, only to clear my head.

As the sun began to set behind the clean black silhouette of the mountains, the sky transformed into a shade of pink, the color of a rose.

It would rise somewhere far away and cast its light.

As the sun disappeared, so did I into my thoughts.

At the end of the street, a kind older man usually sits in his chair with neon green bracelets around his wrists, watching the sunset.

I usually pass him and share a good evening, along with a few other cordial words.

But tonight I felt like talking. I unconsciously sought some escape from the confusion in my mind.

Maybe, he’d want to talk.

“Hey there,” I called out, smiling.

Unbelievable sunset, isn’t it?”

“Not bad at all, and it changes every second,” he replied in a comforting New York accent. It reminded me of my family.

I stopped to consider his words.

As the drop of light in the sky became more acute, the color grew more profound — from pink into a burning red.

The colors flashed across the heavens until they became nothing. Blackness. Night.

“How long have you lived here?” I asked to spark a conversation.

“I lived in the neighborhood next door for seven years, and I’ve been here for three.”

A few others strode by and shared a quick chat, but I decided to stay.

I had nowhere else to be.

“I’m Alfred.”

His voice was cheerful, his hair grey and lively, puffing out from under his cap.

He was out there for a reason. This man had seen a full life and had decided to sit in the street and watch the sunset. Somehow, I felt I should too.

“What do you do?” he asked with affection in his voice.

“Well,” I thought about my answer with slight hesitation.

“I’m a writer.”

We discussed my passion for writing, traveling, and reading.

He told me his wife was a professor, and that his existence had been primarily academic.

“Vinny, let me tell you, I’m not really of this world. I’m eighty-eight, and I know there were wars, I know presidents were elected, but I couldn’t tell you much else of what’s happened.”

“Sometimes, Alfred, I feel the same way. Let me ask you: what’s your favorite book?”

“I could tell you were a smart kid!” he stated enthusiastically.

“That is a question that reveals a lot about a person!”

I smiled as I recognized the commonality between us. When one truly enjoys reading, it’s an integral part of who they are.

The love of reading is an essential part of my personality, and I had a feeling this would hit home.

He thought seriously for a few seconds, then confidently gave his reply.

The Odyssey.

I stood in the street, and Alfred sat. He was barely perceptible now except for his glowing green bracelets and laughter.

Our voices were the only sound in the air beside the gentle wind, discussing books and philosophy, topics that transcend time.

I had no idea, but I needed this. It seemed he did too.

“Can I retract my statement?” he asked as if he hadn’t stopped contemplating his answer since giving it.

“If you want your writing to skyrocket, you have to read Plato’s Republic.”

“That book laid the foundation for western philosophy — it’s the starting point for everything. As a writer, you don’t just deal with words; you deal with ideas. That’s where many ideas come from.”

“I like that, Alfred,” I replied, looking up into the darkening night. I felt like this moment could change my life’s trajectory.

“Write this down,” he said emphatically.

I didn’t have my phone or a pad and pen.

“You should always carry something to write down your ideas. Ideas are like birds; if you don’t shoot them, they’ll escape.”

Of course, he had notecards in his pocket. He sprung up from his chair and took one out. He wrote down an online class to take on Plato’s Republic.

“Take the course, and you’re going to have the most fun you’ve ever had this summer.”

He was happy for me as if he had just revealed a secret that took him a lifetime to discover. He was sharing with me something that brought him profound joy.

He provided an escape from reality into an age where the cosmos were still a dream, and our very planet held treasures yet uncovered: Classical Greece.

However, today the world is too small to escape reality.

Maybe Alfred doesn’t know of the change taking place. Perhaps he doesn’t want to know. It could be that he sees the sunset every night and simply believes in the good of humanity.

I long to be a part of that good, a piece of history not lost in the shadows, but amongst the vanguard of light.

Like the sun rising in the morning, there will always be a spark of light to overcome the darkness.

Sometimes, it comes from asking a simple question such as: what’s your favorite book?

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