Cement Squares

As I was walking into my apartment complex today, I cut the corner to my staircase and stepped on four cement squares. As I stepped on them, I didn’t break my stride at all. My legs didn’t need to stretch, or stutter, to hit those squares perfectly.

Climbing the stairs, I thought about how pleasant of an experience it was, hitting those squares in stride. For whatever reason, I felt an instant connection with the layer of those squares: the landscaper. I saw him.

With construction of the building nearly complete, the landscaper had been working for days. He’d packed two small trees into the ground on both sides of the courtyard, and lined another side with small bushes. Grass had been planted, and dirt been sided and contained. After a week, the work was complete, and the landscaper made a final sweep of the property with his eyes. He’d created an oasis. As he turned to go, one of the painters walked down into the courtyard, left the sidewalk and cut a corner to get to the stairs.

The landscaper cringed as the week-old grass was pushed down into 4 boot-sized footprints.

Out of budget, and done with his contract, the landscaper was pulled into a vision of thousands of twenty-somethings cutting the corner on their way home from class or from work, eager to get home.  He saw me. He saw me cutting through the grass, leaving a stream of mud in the courtyard and in my apartment.

Without an obligation, the landscaper drove to the store and purchased the cement blocks with his own money, came back, and laid them at perfect walking distance, directly over the 4 boot prints.

The landscaper has never returned to the complex. He has perhaps never thought another day about those cement blocks. He certainly doesn’t know that on a March day years later someone would write a story about him. But so it is. 

It’s amazing to me how unknowingly interwoven our lives are. We see the cement-layers of the past, and they see us, without ever having a chance to really stare each other in the eyes. Every day I’ll think back to a conversation, an action, a story, or a piece of advice that has touched me. It’s nostalgically sad that the lasting effect of each of these ‘cement squares’ will be fully known only to me. Save a select few, people come and go, only with wisps of social media and dried contact info with which to hold on to each other.  

And yet I’m happy, and grateful, to live in a world where I get to walk on cement squares every day, each placed by a stranger, an acquaintance, or a friend.


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