THE BLOG
12/03/2014 02:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Wall

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Sunrise is the most beautiful part of the day. First light. Don't matter if there are colors like a picture postcard or it's gray as water in a greasy sink. The darkness still fades. The light begins. Makes you feel alive like nothing else.

So you can imagine how I felt when someone stole my sunrise.

I'm 90 years old. Older than beer in a can and ballpoint pens. Older than World War II and the Great Depression. Worked most all of my life as a dishwasher. KP in war. KP in peace. Then, about 15 years ago, my hands started shaking too bad. Had to retire. Found me a place in this affordable housing complex. Not too bad. Got a washing machine inside the apartment. And a new fridge with two doors. Pretty nice except every time I get milk for my coffee, it's like opening the back of a hearse.

Anyway, there's a doctor next to our apartments - does botox and boob jobs, I think. And one day he decides there's too many kids from my building riding bikes and trikes and skateboards in his parking lot. A safety risk. A risk on his insurance. So he builds a wall. Concrete block. 8 feet tall. Paints it the color of a pine tree. Guess he thought that would make it "green."

Green monster, more like it. (No offense to Red Sox fans.)

So I write him a note. Tell him his wall is blocking out my sunrise. Then I stick the note in his mailbox. It says:

Dear Dr. Stokes,
Tear down that wall.

Next week, he brings over a box of chocolates. Says he feels bad due to my age. I tell him I like to see the sun come up as it's a reminder that I'm still breathing. But he doesn't say nothing about the wall. No comment whatsoever.

So next day, I stick another note in his mailbox. And since I had a good line already and I was never one for wasting words, I use it again. I write:

Dr. Stokes,
Tear down that wall.

That afternoon he brings over a gadget he calls a tablet. He smiles, all friendly and nods his head and gives me the thing. He says his father would have been just about my age if he had lived. And I can see something flicker across his eyes - part pain, part sorrow, part regret, all love.

It makes me pause a minute. And there settles a piece of quiet so big you could back a delivery truck into it. We both just standing there.

Finally, I offer my condolences for his father's passing and my sorrow for the loss. We are all children, you know. And I believe any person who honors a parent is doing right.

Dr. Stokes catches my look of respect but doesn't hold it. He looks down and says the tablet thing shows movies and all sorts of websites, even ones where you could see the sunrise. Anywhere in the world, he says. All I needed was wi-fi. And I had that, didn't I?

I'm laughing. "Pardon me, Dr. Stokes," I say. "But I'm still waiting on hi-fi."

I hand him back his tablet. He looks at me strange and goes away without another word.

I wait two days and then I write my next message to him on an envelope from some junk mail. I'm sorry for his father dying, but this aint no Hallmark moment in time. All I write is this: "Tear down that wall, Dr. Stokes!" Then I see it on the paper and it strikes me I'm probably being less than nasty but more than impolite. So I add: "Please."

Two weeks pass. Worst storm of the winter. Three feet of snow dump down, then ice, then dirty sludge. All over everything, including the green monster. People tell me Dr. Stokes is on vacation in the Bahamas, spending his boob money.

Then early one morning I hear a rattling outside my front door. It's just getting light. The day's brand new - cold and dry and just shaking off the dark. I get up and peek through the front door fish-eye and there he is: Dr. Stokes, in his white coat and stethoscope, with mittens and a hat, sitting in a lawn chair and staring at the green monster, shoulders low, blowing big puffs of steam like sighs.

I think maybe I should offer him one of his own chocolates, but he has a look of speculation, a little unsettled and a little sad. And I decide to leave him be. I hear the lawn chair squeak after a bit, and he's gone.

Three days later. I get woken up to a jackhammer - nothing like the sound of steel ramming concrete to jar the nerves. I come out my front door shouting. But they can't hear nothing with those ear-mufflers they got on.

The foreman signals for the hammers to stop.

I ask him just what they think they doing.

He says the wall is coming down.

Apparently, he says, this is a good place to see the sunrise.

What can I say. I'm smiling big and broad as the sky. But then my thinking catches up with me.

What about them pesky kids on their bikes and their skateboards, I say.

Putting in benches, he says. Benches for older folk to rest. Concrete and oak. Solid. With armrests and cane holders and a place to store your walkers and park your wheelchairs. He holds up some blue prints. No good for skateboards, he says. Bikes can't get through. It'll keep the kids safe and give you folks a place to be, he says.

I go inside and write up a note soon as my hands thaw.

Dear Dr. Stokes,
Thanks for the demolition. I have never been so happy to see something destroyed. I am grateful also for what you are building in its place. I guess you'd call it a wall with a view. I hope one morning when the benches are finished, you will come and join me to watch the sun rise. It's always a beautiful moment. And I'd be honored to share it with you.

Signed, your neighbor, Tremblay T. Johnson.

P.S. What do you think of a plaque to your dad on the benches? Folks here would like the display of respect. And I imagine your dad would, too.

Cross-posted on Thinking Philanthropy.

[Please note: this is a fictional story that has its roots in truth.]