The old friend

Rick Ryckeley's picture

I saw an old friend the other day. Although his face now sports mostly gray hair, it was still a familiar one to me.

For you see, he and I have known one another for what has seemed like a lifetime. Even though we’re years apart in age, we have an unspoken bond, one that goes beyond words, and one time can’t erase.

Growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, Dad taught us many lessons – lessons that, if we were wise enough to follow, would make our lives easier. One of the most important: if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything at all.

It seems my old friend has learned that lesson well. Like most of us, in his youth he talked all the time. Now, 40 years my senior, he only speaks when it’s really important that he be heard. And when he does, I pay close attention.

He listens when no other listens. As tolerant and sweet as she is, even The Wife tires of my endless prattle. My friend never does.

Although of late I’ve noticed his once keen hearing has all but faded. Just last week I came over and called his name. He didn’t answer. On the back porch enjoying the mild weather, he never knew I had opened the door.

Life once danced in his brown eyes. Now they are cloudy with cataracts. The doctor says he’s almost blind.

My friend needed to be watched closely; he could easily trip and be gravely injured. Even worse, he could wander off and get lost.

That’s the day I cried all the way home. Through cloudy eyes he just looked at me from the passenger seat, not saying a word, not understanding why I was so sad about his condition.

After all, if it’s not important, he doesn’t speak. I can learn a lot from him.

He doesn’t move as quickly now, and traversing steps are starting to become a problem. The doctor has run all the tests available and found nothing wrong.

Healthy for a 92-year-old, he could have another four or even five years. But one day, The Wife and I will have to address end of life issues. We will send up a prayer that day. That’s a decision we can’t possibly make on our own.

Regrets? Of those I have many. The demands of this life and work have taken too much time away from our friendship, but he’s never complained.

Now, I see he has many more days behind him than in front. Never can I make up for the time spent away from him.

That’s a burden I’ll have to carry alone when he’s gone. Sometimes the weight of past decisions made about family members can be crushing.

But for now, the best that I can do is an afternoon walk with the old man. Not too fast though, he tires easily. And, after all, I’m getting up there in age also.

During our walks, I’ll talk to him about this and that, and he’ll act like he’s listening like he always does, but I know his hearing, like his eyesight, is almost gone.

The bridge over the creek marks the halfway point to our walks. There, we’ll pause for a drink of water. And he’ll watch as I throw sticks and watch them flow downstream.

On the way back, if we’re lucky, a rabbit will cross his path. The leash will suddenly jerk out of my hands and the youthful puppy from long ago will return. Afterwards, I’ll rub his gray muzzle and perhaps throw a ball or two.

After all, he doesn’t know he’s 92 in human years. He still thinks he’s a puppy.

That’s another thing Dad said so long ago. No matter how old you get, if you stay young in heart, you’ll always be.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is saferick@bellsouth.net. His book is available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]