What I Learned from a Man Sitting on a Bench

Every morning, on my way to work, and on my way back again I see this man sitting on the bench. He is not facing the river; he’s facing the sidewalk, the people walking by. This is an older man, his skin is dark, his eyes are deep. Sometimes I’m not sure if he’s smiling or not. Maybe I’m not sure because I don’t look for too long as I pass by.

Where is he from and why is he here on this bench, every day? I heard his voice once, some language I could not detect. Is he lonely? Is he actually sad? That expression on his face, could it be a smile faded away, smile lost somewhere, someplace he calls home? Did he run away from something, or did he come to experience something new? Or is he well acquainted with this town, much better than I am? Could he tell me the secrets of this place and people he sees on the streets?

His eyes said: “War”

I could not answer these questions, since I felt it would be out of line to approach a man and start a conversation. After all, he is a complete stranger to me. But my mind started playing with these thoughts and soon I had developed my own story about this man. I imagined, just based on the way he sat turned towards the people, and the way his eyes looked a bit sad, that he has much to tell. He became lonely only recently. My dramatic mind imagined that there was maybe a tragedy. In his country there is probably a war and a poor man had to flee.

This began to get to me, even though it was all a part of my imagination and very probably not close to truth. This man can be someone’s father, a grandfather. I see a picture in my head, it’s my own grandfather, who is now long gone and much missed. I can see him as clearly as this man. It’s half remembering half imagining as I realize, my grandfather was just like this man. He was once, at the final state of his life in a different city, a different country away from home and those he loved. He was probably sitting on a bench, as he wrote all those letters to my mother, ensuring her not to worry about her old man.

War in My Eyes

I remember, I was just a small child when he and my grandmother fled from the war. They were just two old people, forced to leave everything behind. They stepped into the unknown, one final time in their lives.

By the tone of their letters, they were trying to consider this step to be a new beginning. A new forced beginning at 70. War is cruelty and nonsense and it should be forbidden. It should be considered a shame and disgrace and it should not be happening anywhere in the world. Unfortunately it does happen.

I am sincerely afraid that this is what I read on that man’s face and within his loneliness. I hope I am wrong. We pass this man each and every day. I am not sure many of us passers notice him. Today I thought I should break the convention of not talking to strangers and greet the man. This time, as I saw him on the same old spot, I saw a women next to him. They were talking and laughing, she talked more, in her strong Irish English accent, and he mostly agreed and nodded. They seemed peaceful and calm and I felt relief.

Let’s care

I probably gave too much thought to this, but at least my thoughts were friendly and compassionate. I wish we all had more compassionate thoughts towards each other.

Someone is maybe having a bad day, could be ill or worried about something. People can be lonely; someone maybe just escaped a war.

Are we really too busy or numb to consider some of these options when interacting with each other? Instead we are so often annoyed by each other and feeling judgmental.

I sincerely hope there are a lot of friendly thoughts out there in my neighboring strangers’ heads. If we had a habit of compassionate thinking, there would be a lot less room for conflict among us.

About the Author

Sanja Ivandic

Sanja Ivandic is one of the Co-Founders of Outside Multicultural Magazine. Sanja relocated to Ireland from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Inspired by the Sligo Intercultural Project she managed for a while, as well as her work in various NGOs such as LEDA and World Vision, this Magazine was born.

Sanja wrote for several magazines, enjoys every form of writing, be it poems, case studies or prose. Her special skills lie in marketing. Currently she is an Employment Advisor. You can get in touch with Sanja by emailing her on: [email protected]

Sanja’s words on multiculturalism: “Multiculturalism for me is a synonym for humanity. Being diverse and similar at the same time is who we are and we must never forget it. Remembering this evokes respect, love, and peace, so we must keep reminding ourselves about the word multicultural”.


Sara Leahy

Sligo photographer specializing in family and wedding portraits




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