Jack trudged down the sidewalk with no momentum, no inward force compelling him to carry on. To anyone else on the street, he might have appeared commonplace in the city, but inside he was dying. His feet tired more with every step and desperately sought a reason to take another. His fingers wanted desperately to relax and let the heavy case drop to the ground in the hope it would relieve the burden on his mind. His brain was so heavy with concern and doubt that his head could not lift to face the horizon. His eyes stared at the ground.
Varying levels of giving up were drifting across Jack’s brain: dropping his latest client, quitting his job, selling his house, moving away, or maybe jumping in front of a bus. Which would be easiest, he wondered.
Just as the thought of looking for the next bus was beginning to hold promise, he caught sight of something out of the norm. Graffiti was not uncommon in the city, but this was different. Written in bright blue chalk on the sidewalk was a single phrase:
LIFE IS A GIFT
Jack stopped. He read the words. His head raised a bit and his eyes pointed outward, toward the skyline, as the phrase repeated in his mind. After a moment, he looked down and read the words again, taking in every syllable like a mantra.
He smiled. Listening to the words again in his mind he remembered an old dear friend telling him the same thing years ago. They were true then as they were now, but for some reason he had forgotten them.
His feet began to walk again, but now his steps grew easier. His head felt a bit lighter, his brain not so burdened with concern. His mouth even held a hint of a smile as he continued…
He saw another message ahead. The same large-printed letters in bright blue chalk exclaimed to him:
THIS MOMENT IS YOUR LIFE
He loved the phrase. He began to feel ashamed for even being depressed before, or ever. What a waste it was to feel sad, because it is true: the only moment you ever know, the only moment that actually defines you, is the moment you are living right now. All other moments exist either in your memories or your aspirations. He recalled great thinkers who said that eternity exists in a single moment. What a shame, he thought, to spend so many of those moments, so many lifetimes, in despair and loneliness. He felt his briefcase lighten, his shoulders straighten, his pace quicken, as a new light was ignited within him. While before he trudged, now he strode.
Jack looked for more messages of hope along the way, and didn’t have to go long before he found the next:
REMEMBER HOW LUCKY YOU ARE
It was true. He was lucky. He never thought about how lucky he really was. The first time he had heard that phrase was from his mother. His grandmother had echoed the same sentiment, many times. He was lucky. No cancer, broken bones, vitamin deficiencies, allergies, lawsuits, collectors at the door, alimony payments, or outstanding traffic tickets. He had clothes on his back, shoes on his feet, a job to go to everyday, a paycheck in his hand, a place to live, a girlfriend who loves him, a family who calls him at Christmas and money in his pocket. He was so lucky. Why did he forget that so easily, and so often? How silly it is, he thought, to forget the simple beauty of life until some free spirit with a piece of light blue chalk comes along and opens your eyes.
Jack’s briefcase seemed to contain nothing at all, and he swung it playfully forward and back. He could see more blue chalk ahead.
He wondered who had done this, and why. He thought about the person he would be thanking tonight as he ate his dinner, savouring every bite. He thought about the saint to whom he’d be offering prayers tonight after making love to his girlfriend. He made a resolution to do something selfless and inspirational for someone else tomorrow.
He stepped off from the curb of the sidewalk and neared the words on the ground. He read:
TAKE A MOMENT TO BREATHE…
He did. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in…
Jack was halfway through what was supposed to be the greatest breath of the rest of his life when he heard the harsh sound of screeching car tires. It was in the last moment of his life that he was aware of so many things: the sky, the wind, the buildings around him, the city, the world, his family, his childhood dog, the shoebox of keepsakes under his bed, the best pair of shoes he’d ever owned, and the first time he ever caught a fish.
Mixed into the kaleidoscope of thoughts and images which passed as death took him was the intense pain of the car slamming into his body, and the words in bright blue chalk – written not on the sidewalk this time, but in the middle of the road.
At the entrance to an alley nearby, an old, twisted man sits in a lawn chair, laughter seething from his cracked and toothless mouth. His crooked fingers raise a rolled cigarette to his mouth for a dirty drag of smoke, as his other hand reaches into his pocket. His demented laughter is momentarily interrupted by a fit of ragged coughs, each hack and wheeze sounding like they might be his last. Finally, he draws a desperate breath in, as his hand retrieves what he has looking for in his pocket.
With the piece of bright blue chalk, he draws another mark on his scoreboard.