I was so absorbed in the colorful light show in the sky above me that I didn’t notice when a stranger walked up.
“It’s a different work of art every night, isn’t it?” the man asked. And I was startled to realize he was standing about six feet from me, watching the same majestic sunset with the same awe which it inspires in me.
People rarely join me on this hill at sunset. It’s in the middle of an old cemetery, so I guess I’m accustomed to being surrounded by dead people — but they never speak.
“I didn’t hear you walk up,” I said to the stranger. And then we chatted about the beauty in front of us and how it was surprising that so few people paid attention. I reached out to shake his hand and I introduced myself.
“Oh, I know you,” he said. “I’ve been up here with you before. I’m Darryl. I was with you a few months ago when it was so colorful around the water tower.”
I pulled out my iPhone and showed him my Instagram feed. He spotted the picture from July 8 and pointed to it.
“I was here that night,” he said.
I still didn’t remember him, but I didn’t admit that. The man seemed genuinely warm and peaceful, even though I didn’t recall ever having seen him.
For the next 10 or 15 minutes, we talked about all sorts of things as the sky continued to change in front of us and I kept taking pictures. Darryl just enjoyed the view and calmly talked about beauty and recognizing what’s important before it’s too late and the importance of family.
He seemed like a simple country fellow, but he sounded wiser than what I expect from some old farmer or menial worker. He seemed wise and warm in a strangely loving way, as though he couldn’t possibly have ever spoken a cross word to anyone.
He wore the kind of hat popular with farmers and truck drivers, the kind with an equipment brand name of some kind. He didn’t sound as though he was from around here, but I didn’t ask him where he lived.
He asked me what kind of work I do and I explained my role at the real estate company where I work — what I do now and what it’s planned I’ll do in the near future. I said it as though I was trying to sell him on this being a good career.
“Why aren’t you writing?” he asked with no apparent context.
I asked why he would ask something so unusual.
“You have a lot to say,” he said. “I can tell from listening to you that you have things to say and other people are going to want to hear. You should write all that down. And you take these pictures and seem to love these colorful images. You should make moving pictures to share all that.”
I felt a little uncomfortable, because Darryl had struck too close to home. Who was this stranger who was seeing this hidden part of me after just a few minutes of conversation?
I asked him what he did and whether he had ever been a writer. I thought maybe that might be why he observed something in me so accurately.
“I’ve retired from everything,” he said, “but you could say I’ve worked the dirt all my life. I wouldn’t know how to write if I wanted to, but I know what I see in you.”
Darryl didn’t sound like any farmer I’ve ever talked with, but I realize that some people are smarter and wiser than their humble work would make you think. Still, I couldn’t get over him mentioning writing and filmmaking. How had he perceived those interests in me?
Finally, I told Darryl that I need to go, so I reached out and shook his hand, telling him maybe we would run into each other up here again sometime.
“I’ll be seeing you around,” he said. Then he mentioned a couple of other places where he had seen me — and they’re local places where I do go. Still, I didn’t remember us speaking before then.
Then I turned to my car to put away my phone and my camera. When I turned back around, Darryl had already wandered off. I didn’t see another car, but it was dark by then, so he must have parked somewhere else and walked.
As I started the car and drove off through the fading colorful dusk of that cemetery, I couldn’t get over the odd sensation that he had known me in a way that wasn’t possible.
Was I really that transparent about who I am and what I need to do? Or was he just some mysterious angel sent to remind me?
It’s a full day later and I still can’t figure out quite what happened. The colorful image above is all I have left from last night, but the image Darryl left in my mind is even stronger and more colorful.
I don’t know what to make of it.