Swinging to Their Own Rhythm

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Swinging to Their Own Rhythm

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” -Mark Twain

Ralph was the type of person that seemed as ordinary as could be.  His frame could hardly be called tall or muscular.  He was just a little too short to be of average height.  His hair wasn’t buzzed, nor was it shaggy; it was in that rather standard range in between.  With brown hair and a perfect triangle for a nose, Ralph was almost the token definition of non-descript.  If there was anything Ralph was good at, it was blending in.

There seemed to be no job better suited for Ralph than that of a guard.  He spent his days surrounded by beautiful paintings and sculptures in the museum.  When he was feeling lonely he would stroll through the Edward Hopper paintings, when he was homesick he would walk up to the museum’s lone Norman Rockwell, and when he felt like life just didn’t make sense, he’d stroll down the wall of Impressionists.  Ralph liked art a great a deal; he appreciated how these artists could express themselves and their emotions in ways that others could understand.  Ralph had yet to master that a remarkable talent for himself.

Ralph’s skill for being unnoticed, however; that he had down to an art.  As soon as someone started to take out a camera or reach out to a painting, Ralph was right there.  The most common reaction was that of surprise.  Ralph never tried to walk quietly, but his gait hardly employed stomping.  People didn’t register his presence when they passed him in the halls.  Then, before they knew it, Ralph was standing by them; tapping them on the shoulder.  Once they recovered from the shock, many of the visitors putting their hands to their chests, they apologized and cooperated.

Ralph’s supervisors had seen how stealthy he was and how he approached quietly.  The higher-ups thanked him for being so diligent in his role, but asked him to try to make his presence known when a guest was first visible.  They offered that part of his role was to serve as a visible deterrent.  If patrons saw him and were reminded that there were rules, then perhaps he wouldn’t startle the guests so much.  Ralph had heard the suggestion repeatedly, but was unsure how to go about doing so.  A small man with a slight build and a quiet voice could hardly compete with the wonderful canvases and breathtaking installations that surrounded him.

There was one area, one lone activity where Ralph felt confident and bold.  The activity didn’t require him to be tall or strong or good looking.  All Ralph had to do was show up.  There was no competition involved, Ralph only had to participate and his world was made better.  Yes, despite his age, Ralph still received great joy from playing on swings.

Oddly enough, the swings were the one place in the world where Ralph stood out.  Walking around in the crowds and throngs downtown, Ralph was invisible.  His feet would get stepped on, people cut in front of him in line to get coffee, and bartenders always managed to ask for his drink order last.  On the playground, the situation was completely different.  It didn’t matter how many children or families were near the swing sets, if Ralph was there he became the center of attention.  He tried not to take away from the children’s enjoyment and was quick to give up his swing to any youngster that might want it.  Yet, even if there were no kids wanting to swing, Ralph remained a curiosity

The day came where he was about to give in.  Ralph started to wonder if he shouldn’t start enjoying the relaxing swing sets early in the morning when no one was about.  A mother and her small daughters were approaching and the eldest had a wary look on her face.  The playground had eight different swings to choose from, but Ralph still felt like he should disembark to alleviate her concerns.

As he started to slow the swing down so that he could casually walk away, Ralph noticed something.  Two squirrels were gathered at a large oak tree about ten feet away from the playground.  Both animals were standing on their hind legs, apparently arguing with the other.  They chittered back and forth as a lone nut sat on the ground between them.  The chatting and excited noises came out louder and louder.  Suddenly, the slightly bigger of the two squirrels took its right paw, swatted the other squirrel upside the head, grabbed the nut, and then ran off.

Ralph burst out laughing.  He couldn’t help himself.  The action had been so quick, so completely unexpected that he guffawed at their squabble.

The two girls opened their eyes wide.  They ran forward asking Ralph what was so funny.  He pointed to the lone squirrel that was recovering on the ground.  It shook its head and began to run off.  Ralph told the small children about the nut and fight.  The retelling of the story only made Ralph laugh more.  The two girls didn’t fully understand his story, but they laughed along with Ralph regardless.

The mother rushed forward, rather upset that the girls had broken free of her.  She stood there, taking the scene in.  Her two children stood laughing while a stranger in a swing chuckled and laughed with them.  The scene was an odd one, to be sure, but she couldn’t help herself.  She too started laughing.  Before long, the four of them were assembled around the playground enjoying the day and commenting on how nice everything seemed.

Ralph stayed up that night thinking about what had happened.  No one had pressured him to leave the playground that day.  If nothing else, he had made some new friends.  Ralph wasn’t about to invite them over for tea yet, but he doubted that he would feel awkward if he saw them again.  Ralph wondered if the day hadn’t opened up a new opportunity for him.

The next day at work, Ralph tested out his plan.  He didn’t really change anything about himself, but he did take things a bit less seriously.  Ralph stopped worrying about what people would think and loosened up.  For many years he had been walking around, looking at the paintings and chucking at some of the stranger, more avant-garde creations.  And one day, not too far from that happy time in the park, Ralph cracked a joke.

The visitor didn’t laugh out loud.  She didn’t burst at the seams.  She merely smiled and went on with her visit.  Ralph grew a little bolder from that success.  He made another joke.  After that came another.  It didn’t happen overnight, but gradually Ralph became something of a go-to guy for light-hearted visits.  He would kneel down to talk to small children and sometimes tell them a joke.  Ralph was never an intimidating guard, but he became more and more of a good-natured one.  By the next year, Ralph had received several letters complimenting him for making peoples’ visits more fun.  Children especially, thought he was quite delightful.  He only spoke a sentence or two, but those few phrases made all the difference.  And when he laughed, everyone around him chuckled along.

Ralph is still the same person that he always was.  He probably won’t stand out in a crowd.  Folks who don’t know him pass him by.  He is still “that guy in line at the grocery store” or “a neighbor I know”.  But once people get to talking to him, they laugh.  For Ralph, it’s a small thing; one he rather likes.  And now he fits right in with every other kid, big or tiny, that likes to play on swing sets.



About Cosand
He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.

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