“You know,” says the old man,
“all those corny old sayings are true.”
We are seaside in Bristol at a playground.
My children squeal and chase each other
and I am lost in global thoughts of should and should not,
forgiveness and pride, and who did what
first to whom, and the old man does two pull ups
on the monkey bars. His dress shoes and red socks
dangle beneath him as he lifts and drops, lifts
and drops. Mid-seventies, I guess.
“You can do it, too,” he says, smiling at me.
“No,” I say, “I can’t do it.”
“Today,” he says, “you just hang and pull.
You might not think you move at all.
Then, tomorrow, you’ll be a little higher.
In five days, your chin will be up at the bar.”
Sometimes we guard ourselves with an armor of no,
but hiding inside is a glimmer of yes that,
given any encouragement at all, will grow
into a willingness to be vulnerable.
“Okay,” I say, “I will try it.”
I stand beneath the bars, and raise
my arms and grip the metal and pull.
Nothing happens. “First,” he says,
“you have to believe you can do it.”
I fight to not roll my eyes, but
I tense my arms again and try,
and I move up the slightest bit.
He smiles. “You know what they say,
before you can take the second step
you have to take the first.” Again,
I pull up and feel myself lift,
perhaps an inch. For this moment,
I almost believe anything could happen, given time.
Like a woman who could not lift her own weight
could do so. And a nation that would not forgive
could love. And one stranger with a smile
and some old wisdom could open the minds
of the people he meets, one pull up at a time.