“About seventy years back, I sat right where you are now.”
The comment from some stranger almost startled me into falling. I was sitting on the ledge of the rooftop terrace with my feet dangling off the side. It was a chilly windy night, and the noise from the traffic far below was barely audible. I slid my butt a little further from the edge and that long drop down.
“Well, it wasn’t exactly in the same place. I was on a bridge, not a rooftop, and it was a blizzard, not a clear, crisp night like tonight.”
“Seventy years, you say?”
I clearly must have misheard the guy, he couldn’t have been much over sixty.
“I know, I know,” he said. “I don’t look a day over forty, but I swear on my mother’s grave it was more than seventy years ago. Beautiful what the landlord has done to the place up here.”
Lights were strung along the rooftop ledge, a collection of chairs, and one of those fake green carpets covering up the concrete. There was also a refurbished coffee table and a little brick fireplace. I leaned back so I can face this unusual stranger.
“Actually, I did most of this. Are you new in the building?”
“Oh, I don’t live here. I’m just visiting someone. I’m on a special assignment.”
“Really, where you from?”
“Just a little place called Bedford Falls. It was on a bridge back in that town that I was just talking about. It’s where I met Clarence. I’m George, by the way.”
“Eric. Nice to meet you, George. But are you sure you mean seventy years?”
George just looked at me and winked.
“Back when I first met Clarence, he stopped me from jumping off the bridge by jumping himself.” George looked down at the below, shook his head, and said, “I didn’t think that would work here. You jumping down after me probably wouldn’t save either one of us.”
I sat there frozen. It took my mind a minute to start working again, I was so surprised. How did this stranger know I was about to jump?
“I’d love to answer that question for you, but the wind’s a bit nippy out here on the ledge. What say you and I grab a couple of those chairs, and I can tell you all about it?”
Answer that question? The age? More confused than ever, I just nodded and the two of us walked over to the chairs set around that coffee table. For a minute, George didn’t talk but just looked up at the sky above.
“Is that the big dipper just over the building there? I’m guessing if we wait around a couple hours, we will be able to see the whole thing.”
I just shrugged, I had no idea.
“You don’t really get many stars around here do you?”
“Too much city light.”
“You know what they say, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies display his handiwork.’ ”
That sounds like a Bible verse. Oh great, I’m dealing with one of those. But he seems a nice enough man, so I didn’t want to be rude. Just, let him say his piece and get out of here. Then I can go back to… finishing it all. So I responded, “All I know about the Bible and stars is that one of them showed up on Christmas.”
“Hmm.” The old man paused to think about that for a while. I didn’t think what I said was really all that profound, but it seemed to trigger a thought in his head. He appeared to be working out what he would next say, so I waited. It really was a beautiful, peaceful night. The breeze shifted directions a bit, and music from an open window across the street was carried on it.
George noticed it too. “Do you hear what I hear?”
I had to chuckle at that one. It wasn’t just a question; it was also the title of the song coming from that distant window. The wind shifted again, and that distant song was carried away from our ears. But now George had picked up the tune and was humming. He finished out the chorus then stopped.
“I thought I was insignificant.”
George looked intently at me and said, “I thought I was insignificant. I thought I was a failure. That is why I was on the bridge seventy years back ready to jump. That is why Clarence threw himself into the water. He knew to put himself at risk was the best way to save me. And that is what that song is all about.”
Now I was thoroughly confused. This guy just wasn’t making any sense.
“Do you see what I see?” George pointed up towards the stars. “A star, dancing in the night. Do you hear what I hear?” He pointed over towards where that music came from. “A song, high above the trees. Do you know what I know?” He pointed at his own temple. “A child, shivers in the cold.”
“OK, so there are some stars in the sky and music on the wind, but I don’t see any kids.”
“Who is that child?”
Is this some sort of trick question? “Umm, Jesus?”
“And you don’t think he is right here, right now? Eric, I died almost fifty years ago. Twenty-five years before that, I almost cut my own life short. But God sent Clarence because I had two and a half decades of a wonderful life yet to live. I can’t tell you what your own future holds. It’s against the rules. I can’t even tell you how much life you have left to live. But I can tell you that your life is not meant to end tonight with a long jump over a short ledge.
“This season is hard. I know it’s hard. But that is because we humans make it that way. It doesn’t have to be so. That child wasn’t born so that the first month of winter could be so chaotic and stressful. We did that all ourselves. He came so that we could have peace. Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of what this season is supposed to be about. I went deaf in one ear during my time on earth, but now it seems the whole world can no longer hear the meaning behind the music they listen to.
“There is no easy fix for the pain that you are feeling. Even if you do make the right choice tonight, there is still a long hard road ahead. But it is a road worth walking. I promise you that. Don’t look at the pain. Don’t look at the problems. Focus instead on him. He’s here, right now, with you shivering in the cold. And he will walk through this season with you.”
At this point, I was staring down at my feet. I had only just met George, but I didn’t want him to see the tears welling up in my eyes. I noticed he had gone silent. I breathed in deep and picked my head up… but he was gone. He had just disappeared as if he had never been there. The wind shifted again, bringing the Christmas music back. I lost control. I put my hands up to my face and just began to weep. For I don’t know how long, I just sat in that old chair on the cold roof, letting the sobs break over me. There was so much pain that I had been holding inside for so long. But that night, I let it go.
Eventually, the tears had poured themselves out, and I sat in the relative silence. Sometime around midnight, the Christmas music stopped. I sat for a little longer, hearing only the distant noise of the traffic far below. Finally, I picked myself up and went back down to my apartment. The place was just as empty as it had been last night and the night before that. But tonight, I knew that I was not alone.