Faded Photographs and Secret Pain

I always think that he must be so lonely—an elderly gentleman with no family to call his own sitting on his porch and watching the world go by.

Whenever I walk by with my daughters, the old man’s face lights up.

“Hello!” he smiles. He especially loves my two-year old. “How are you today, honey?” he always asks.

We don’t know his name or the first thing about him, but he’s our favourite neighbour.

Today, as I was packing the girls into the stroller so we could walk to the park, he ambled down the sidewalk. We exchanged the usual pleasantries. But as he walked away, he suddenly stopped and turned around.

“Your little girl reminds me of my daughter,” he said. “May I show you a photo?”

He opened his wallet and pulled out a faded photograph from the seventies. It was a picture of him holding a child. She looked about the same age as my daughter, with the same white-blonde hair.

“She’s thirty-seven now,” he said. Then he pulled out another photograph of a smiling family, taken around the same time. He pointed at the two little boys in the photograph. “Those are my sons. They’re in their forties now.”

“Do they live around here?” I asked.

“I don’t know where they are.”

His voice was thick with pain as told me his story. “When my wife and I split up, she took the kids and moved away. She did it because I didn’t have a car and she didn’t want me to see them.”

He put the photos away and looked over at my children. “I especially miss my daughter. When she was a baby, I would bathe her and feed her and take care of her.”

He choked up. “It’s hard,” he said.

I was thankful for my sunglasses, thankful that he couldn’t see that my eyes were full of tears. I didn’t know what to say or how to respond. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him since.

Every year on his children’s birthdays, how this old man must ache as he stares around his empty house! He must wonder if his children ever married and had children of their own—his grandchildren! Do they think about him too or have they forgotten him? Oh the pain of a torn family!

Lord, what can we do for this man? This is my prayer.

I believe that I have a Holy Spirit-inspired idea. My little girl loves to bake and we were planning on making banana bread later today. Why can’t we love our neighbour through banana bread and a Bible verse? It doesn’t have to be complicated.

And I can pray. I can pray for healing, for hope, for restoration. My daughter, too, can pray. We can lift this man up to the One who mends broken hearts.

Still, there is a question that needs to be asked. I’m asking myself and I’m asking you:

How many others around us are carrying faded photographs and secret pain?

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