Essays on Faith, Family and Culture

The Man in the Van

I’ve been silent lately, more so than ever in the past, on my various blogs. Part of this is the lurking feeling that everything that can be said about 2020 has been said: COVID virus, race riots, murder hornets.

I’m waiting for Godzilla to rise from the Sea of Japan and a sharknado to arrive in August and then this year will be complete.

Just when I start to feel sorry for myself or angry at the world situation, something happens to snap me out of it. Last night, it was the man in the van.

I didn’t realize anyone was in the illegally parked blue van until we were driving away. My dog, Zeke, began barking his warning bark, breath fogging the back window as he let the other driver know nothing would get past him to us.

“He’s parked illegally,” my husband murmured.

I just nodded. The lot at the trail head had a handicapped parking spot and it was empty, but the rains of the past week had left a mud hole where I imagine the wheelchair ramp might get stuck, or the tires of a wheelchair might get mired.

No matter. The man in the van probably wasn’t walking anywhere soon.

He was large man of indeterminate age with thinning hair and the moon-round face of someone on prednisone or a medication like it. A portable oxygen machine, the kind smiling old ladies advertise on television as “liberating”, perched on the dashboard of his van where a handicapped parking sticker swayed on the rearview mirror. Tubes snaked from the machine to his nose.

But it was his eyes that held me for an instant before we accelerated onto the highway.

He was crying.

I could see him holding a handkerchief, dabbing his eyes, gazing at the trail we had just left, the wooded glen and gravel pathway skirting the highway towards Pamplin.

Was he crying because he could no longer walk the trail?

Was he crying because this stupid, evil, ugly COVID virus kept him prisoner inside his van, unable to leave — even if he could — for fear of catching it? Clearly, his breathing was compromised. He needed that portable oxygen machine.

I don’t know, and I’ll never know, but his eyes have haunted me until today. His eyes reflect the sorrow and despair and anger I think we all feel right now. Prisoners in our own homes, whether from the violence erupting in cities or viruses lurking among us, we’re all at our wit’s end, gazing out at the world we once strode through without inhibitions.

I wish I knew his name.

I wish I’d seen him while we were walking rather than as our car pulled away.

I wish I’d stopped to ask him what’s wrong, can I help, is there anything I can do?

It’s too late now. The man in the van remains nameless.