Jones set his drink can down and said, "We need to start noticing a few things. We need to check your heart. We need to gather a little perspective."
"I don't even know what you are talking about," I said. "And I don't know who you are."
"Fair enough." He smiled. "Well, let me see, now . . . how do I explain?" He leaned toward me quickly. "As for who I am, call me Jo—"
"You already told me that," I interrupted. "What I mean—"
"Yeah, I know what you mean. You mean, where'd I come from, and stuff like that."
"Well, this evening, I came from just up the beach a ways." I sighed and rolled my eyes. Chuckling, he held up both hands in mock protest. "Hang on. Hang on, now. Don't get aggravated at old Jones." In a softer voice he added, "Okay?" Accepting my nod, he continued.
"I am a noticer," he said. "It is my gift. While others may be able to sing well or run fast, I notice things that other people overlook. And, you know, most of them are in plain sight." The old man leaned back on his hands and cocked his head. "I notice things about situations and people that produce perspective. That's what most folks lack—perspective—a broader view. So I give them that broader view . . . and it allows them to regroup, take a breath, and begin their lives again."
For several minutes we sat there quietly, peering out at the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I was strangely calm in the presence of this old man, who was now lying on his side, elbow in the sand, with his head propped on his hand. After a while, he spoke again—a question this time. "So your mama and daddy passed on?"
"How did you know that?" I asked in return.
He gave the tiniest of shrugs, as if to say, Everybody knows, but I knew they didn't.
Though it alarmed me that this stranger seemed to know so much about me, I shook off the eerie feeling and answered his question. "Yeah, they're both dead."
He pursed his lips. "Well . . . that's a matter of perspective too." When I questioned him with a look, he continued. "There's a big difference in 'dead' and 'passed on.' "
"Not to me," I snorted.
"You ain't the one who's passed on."
"You got that right," I said bitterly. "I'm the one who's left." On the verge of tears again and with a mean tone of voice, I blurted out, "So what's your perspective on that? Huh?"
Carefully, Jones asked, "Well, why do you think you are here? In this situation . . . in this place, I mean."
"Because I chose to be," I tossed out. "My own bad decisions. My attitude." I stared hard at him. "See? I know all the right answers. So I don't need to hear it from you. It's all my fault, okay? Is that what you want me to say?"
"No," the old man said calmly. "I was just curious if you had any perspective of your own."
"Well, no, I don't," I said. "I grew up hearing that old adage about God putting a person after His own heart where He wants him to be. And He puts me under a pier?" I cursed, then added, "By the way, about that reference to the difference between 'dead' and 'passed on,' I've spent more than enough of my life in church, so I get what you're implying. I'm just not sure I buy any of that anymore."
"That's okay for the moment," Jones said soothingly. "I hear you. And I understand why you feel that way. But listen . . . I'm not selling anything. Remember, I am only here for—"
"For perspective, yeah, I know."