Late one summer day I saw an old man sitting on a park bench. He looked tired, sad, and alone. I knew this man and a feeling of sadness came over me. This man was mean and angry. There was never a smile on his face. In fact, he was so mean, when others saw him walking down the street they would cross to the other side just to avoid him.
Whenever you did talk to him, he complained about everything. His business partners cost him his business, he was working at a place he hated. His boss was a jerk. His co-workers were lazy. He would just go on and on and on. He was the most negative person you’d ever meet. He would always end the conversation by telling you about his ‘dislike for God.’ God had forsaken him and he never forgave God for what happened.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when he was happy and loved life. He had married the woman of his dreams who gave him a beautiful little girl. He was successful as a business owner, was well respected in the community and admired by all he met. The biggest thing he was known for was his love to help others succeed. Every day he made a vow that he would help someone in need. You could always count on him to give generously to any worthwhile project.
I had personal knowledge of how much he loved to help others. The first time we met was a blessing to me. I had just finished college, was newly married, didn’t have a job, and was down on my luck. As this man and I talked, he put his arm around me and asked, “Do you believe in yourself?” “I do” was my reply. “Do you believe in others?” “Of course” I said. “If you believe in yourself and others, you can do miraculous things.” He then sat down at his desk and wrote a check for one thousand dollars. “Here,” He said, “I believe in you.” He then offered me a job in his company and I did my best because of the love of that man.
For several years I work hard and advanced in the company. But as time went by, I noticed a change coming over the man. Instead of being the happy and loving man he once was, he was becoming distant, discouraged, and soon he became someone no one wanted to be around.
The business failed, his life was in shambles, and things only got worse. His wife divorced him and moved far away. The old man only got to see his daughter maybe two or three times a year. The beautiful home that he built was foreclosed. To support himself, he took a job in a factory. He just made enough money to pay his bills and buy enough food to eat.
Everyone wanted to know how such a loving and kind man could turn into the meanest man they had ever seen? He no longer gave of himself, he cursed everyone he met, and soon, he became someone you wanted to avoid.
While the man was sitting on the bench, he hadn’t noticed the little girl sitting next to him. When he saw her, he said in a gruff voice, “What do you want?” The little girl looked up at him “You look so sad, and unhappy.” “Why do you care? Just leave me alone!” He replied. The little girl just sat there.
Then the old man yelled at her in the meanest voice he could muster, “Get out of here you little brat! Go play with your friends! I don’t want you sitting here! Just go away!” The little girl looked up at him. Then she reached over and took his hand. In a quiet voice she asked, “Why are you angry?” This stunned the old man. He looked at her, folded his arms and grumbled something.
The little girl stood up, looked at the old man, and smiled. “Sir,” She said, “If you lost your smile, you can borrow one of mine till you gets yours back.” She blew him a smile and ran off to play. As he watched her leave, he thought to himself, “What a little brat, giving me one of her smiles. That’s ridiculous!” The old man got up and shuffled away.
The next day, there was the old man, sitting on the same park bench. This time he was very angry. Earlier in the day he had a run in with his boss and ultimately was fired. “What am I going to do?” He thought to himself. “Without a job I can’t pay my rent, pay my bills, or even buy anything to eat!” Several times people advised him to move into a retirement home. Every time his reply was negative and he would end the conversation with words that would stab your heart. The old man was a proud man and it hurt him to admit that he needed help.
Before long, he realized that the same little girl was sitting next him. “Not you again!” The old man growled. “I told you to leave me alone!” This time she held a piece of paper in her hand. “Here,” She said, “I drew this for you.” She handed the old man the paper, blew him a smile, and ran off to play.
When he looked at the piece of paper, there was a drawing of the old man sitting on the bench. Then he noticed something. The old man in the picture had a smile on his face! There was a note under the picture. ‘You look much happier when you smile!’ Your friend, Jenny.
“A friend?” He thought to himself. “I have no friends! Everyone hates me, and God has ignored me!”
The old man tossed the picture to the ground. As he sat there thinking about his problems, the old man could see the picture out of the corner of his eye. He kept looking over at the picture. When it was time for him to go, the old man stooped down and picked up the paper and walked away.
The next day, since the old man had lost his job, and had nothing to do, he decided to go for a walk. Before long he found himself sitting on the same bench in the park. He realized that for some reason, things looked different. He noticed the trees swaying with the light summer breeze. The grass under his feet looked greener. There was a small stream close by, which he had never noticed. For the first time in a long time, he noticed the beauty that was all around him.
While he was sitting with his eyes closed, taking in the sights and smells of the park, he felt someone touch his hand. When he opened his eyes, there was Jenny, smiling at him. “What do you want?” The old man said. “Nothing,” replied Jenny. “I see you haven’t found your smile yet.” “Go away!” The old man said. But this time he voice wasn’t as gruff as before.
As Jenny held the old man’s hand, she asked him, “What are you grateful for?” This took the old man by surprise. “What do you mean?” He asked. Jenny said, “Everyone is grateful for something. What are you grateful for?” The old man just looked at Jenny and said, “You sure are odd. You ask the dumbest questions!”
Jenny opened the old man’s hand and placed a small shiny rock in it. “This is for you,” She said. “This is a gratitude rock. Every time you touch it, think of something you are grateful for.” Jenny stood up, blew the old man a smile, and ran off to play.
As the old man sat there, he looked at the little rock. “What in the world is a gratitude rock?” The old man rubbed the rock and he immediately began thinking of something he was grateful for. He dropped the rock in surprise. It had been a long time that the old man had been grateful for something. As the old man got up to leave, he knelt down and picked up the little rock and put it in his pocket.
Every day when the old man went to the park, he hoped that Jenny would be there. Jenny was there and soon a friendship was born. Jenny always had something for her friend; a flower, a picture, or some other little knick knack. They would talk about many different things. And every time Jenny would get up to leave, she blew the old man a smile.
It was nearing the end of summer and the old man knew that soon Jenny wouldn’t be playing at the park anymore. She would be at school. The season was changing and winter would be here shortly. On the last day they met, the old man had tears in his eyes. Without realizing it, he had been changing because of the smile of a little girl. After spending a long time talking with one another, Jenny climbed onto the old man’s lap. “Tell me about your little girl,” she asked. The old man looked surprised! How did she know about his daughter? He never once talked about her.
As tears began rolling down his cheeks, the old man wrapped his arms around Jenny and began telling his story. “Jenny,” He said, “My little angel was about your age. She had long brown hair and she had her mother’s smile. Mary Jane was her name.” The old man stopped talking and looked down at Jenny. She was looking up at him and was stroking his cheeks as he was talking.
“Mary Jane was about your age when she died.” The old man said. He was crying harder this time. “I killed my little girl,” He cried. “She was playing in the driveway behind my car. I didn’t see her and as I backed out, I ran over her. I pleaded for God to let Mary Jane live but God didn’t listen to me and he took my precious child away from me!”
The old man hugged Jenny close to him and Jenny continued to stroke his face. His tears were running down his face and the tear drops were landing softly onto Jenny’s face. “It’s okay,” said Jenny in a soft voice. “I’m sure you didn’t mean to hurt her. God didn’t turn his back on you; it was time for Mary Jane to go home.”
The old man continued to hold Jenny and cry. All of the years of hurt and guilt seemed to pour out of him. He had blamed God for taking his sweet little girl from him, and the old man missed Mary Jane so much.
The two friends sat there on the park bench, holding each other as this little girl comforted him. “Do you believe in yourself?’ The old man just looked a her. “Do you believe in others?” He couldn’t answer her. Finally, Jenny got off the old man’s lap. “God didn’t forsake you. Look around, he has been here all the time! See the beauty that you enjoy? That’s god’s way of showing you that he cares. Mary Jane loves you very much and she misses you too.” Jenny then blew him a smile and turned to go play. “Jenny,” the old man said, “You have helped me find my smile.” The old man smiled, Then blew Jenny’s smile back to her and said, “Thank you for letting me borrow your smile.” Jenny smiled, gave the old man a wink and ran off to play.