Julia Scully


I used to feel sorry for old people sitting on park benches. Poor, lonely, abandoned folk. I never dreamed I’d be one of them.
It’s a small park, really, where I find my bench. Hardly warrants the name, “park.” What it is, basically, is the space created by a u-shaped group of tall buildings. It is beautifully planted, occasionally attracts other than the usual city birds and, particularly, or especially, given my current enfeebled state, its convenience makes it my frequent destination.
Here, now, in this tiny corner of the city, there is much to observe. Before me, a tree in full leaf, alive with light, in constant movement from the breeze. As it shifts shape, the emerging patterns are endless. It is impossible to count the leaves. The tree is a forest. Nearby, an azalea bush in full bloom – a motionless, unbelievably bright explosion of color. A contrapuntal note to the swaying branches above. Further down, a spiky red plant shoots up out of the greenery. It could grace a tropical plantation.
Yet, there was a time for me before benches…. 
 A time, riding a Turkish sea, I peered down at a sunken city….
A time when I walked beneath a cathedral of redwoods. 
I thrilled to the sight of Africa from the heights of Gibraltar; saw the setting sun, a pink ball, impaled on a spire of Notre Dame. In a rutted field, on a starry night in the South of France, I made love among the cornstalks.
The park, of course, is not just for old folks. Young people pass by on their way to and from the buildings. For them, however, it is just a through-way. Occasionally, very occasionally, one will wave or utter a muffled greeting through a face mask. Thinking they’re bringing a bit of cheer to a lonely old woman.
Still, I remember.
In a Trinidadian rain forest, tropical birds flashed their brilliance; fields of sunflowers towered over my head on endless days in Spain, and, by a lagoon in Belize, I heard the nighttime screams from the jungle and kissed a stranger. In a crude waterfront café in Lisbon, I sipped wine and felt close to Heaven.

Those were the days when I worked at what I loved, rejoicing in success.

The days when I loved without restraint, without regret. Not without sorrow, not without heartbreak.

And I lived the life I had dreamed.

Today, in these times of isolation, there is an endless stream of deliveries to the buildings surrounding the park. UPS trucks, men pushing hand carts piled high with cartons, restaurant delivery men in helmets and masks carrying plastic bags, parking their bikes outside entrances to buildings. Usually they are young, often small, migrants from the southern continent, impassive faces marked by a long trail of struggle. They’re young enough to take the physical endurance their jobs entail. But the other day I saw an older man pushing a large cart laden with packages. He was bent over in his task, and I could tell from the way he dragged his legs and leaned heavily against the cart, that he was tired and hurt. What does he think about us bench-sitters, of whom little is required? Nothing, probably. Doesn’t even notice us, really, so weary is he in his task.

But, maybe, after all, I misjudge the old man pushing the cart. Surely, he, too, remembers. Maybe he is happy in his work, grateful, even, just to have a job. Thankful, as I am, to be here, here, in this small, lovely corner of the world.

JULIA SCULLY was Editor of Modern Photography  for twenty years. She is the author of Outside Passage: A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood and books about the photographer Mike Disfarmer.