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A Look of Love On an Old Tram in Prague

THERE were worse places for an Irishman to be sitting than in a tram in Prague on March 17, the National Day of Ireland's Saint Patrick.

After all, the Celts originated from this part of Central Europe, and many made their way to the Celtic fringes of the British Isles, including Ireland.

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My thoughts, like the Prague tram, were traveling down a familiar groove for a philosophical Irishman far from home, when I caught sight of an elderly man on the seat opposite. He was frail, with fine features and a wisp of gray hair. Shabbily dressed by Western standards, he looked like a refugee from the 1950s and the cold-war period when communism froze much of Eastern and Central Europe in its soulless grip.

He wore a gray hat and nondescript, scuffed shoes, thick gloves, and a heavy overcoat to keep out the chill.

It was not his clothes that particularly caught my eye. It was the tender expression on his face as he turned to his female companion and squeezed her arm affectionately.

She, too, was dressed in a style that most Western women have discarded long ago, and she was much younger than her companion. Despite her clothes and the mundane atmosphere of the old Czech tram as it clattered along its tracks, the woman exuded an air of gaiety. Her hair was neatly tied with a blue ribbon in a ponytail, and she looked as if she were going to a party.

The elderly man kept his hand on her arm and gazed fondly at her face. It was a look of love, but not that of a lover. Rather, it was the look of a father at a cherished child.

As I watched discreetly in the way of professional writers (and eavesdroppers), I wondered what the elderly man's story might have been. He looked old enough to have survived World War I, certainly World War II and the Nazi occupation, and most certainly the long years of communist repression.

But he had outlived them all; he was still sharing his love with a treasured young woman, and his spirit was still strong like the spirit of Prague itself.

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Eventually, I reached my destination and stepped down from the tram. As it roared into the night, I noticed that the elderly man was still gazing into the face of the young woman, oblivious to the rest of the world passing by.

I smiled softly to myself and walked from the dark shadows into the light.

Love was still alive and well in Prague, and outliving the oppressors and all those who had never known this better way....

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