Monday, July 28, 2008

love lasts a lifetime

I am 40 years old. Seems hard to imagine sometimes, life has been so busy, crazily hurtling forward, I blink and another year has passed. I love this life, most days. The insanity and the craziness, watching my children grow, watching age appear on Jim's face and my own. We earned these wrinkles, and we lived the life that caused them fully. It has not always been easy for any of us, but we are survivors and we learn from our mistakes. The one thing that matters to us the most is family, raising our kids right, loving each other well. At this time in our lives, we have finally learned to laugh together, to have fun and relax, to enjoy it for what it is, imperfect, warts and all, life.

We had a BBQ here Saturday, Rob & Wendy and the kids came over. It is likely one of the last times that will happen, as I have blogged about before, they are moving away very soon. I am trying hard to be a big girl about it, trying to support my best friend as she makes this huge change. She needs me to be here for her, even across the country. I will miss her so much, but I know that time does not stand still, and I will blink my eyes and the days will pass, somehow. I believe she will come home again, it might not be until we are old and gray, but this kind of love doesnt just stop. Like Jim and I, we have certainly been beaten by life a few times, but I could never walk away from him, he is so deeply a part of me, and I of him.

When I went grocery shopping to get food for the BBQ, I was walking through the produce aisle when I spotted corn on the cob in a big bin, they hadnt had any for the last few visits, so I was happy to see it. I walked towards it, then heard a voice saying "Young lady, I see you eyeballing this corn, you'll be needing this", I looked up and there was a sweet looking and very elderly gentleman standing there with his hand extended towards me, holding a bag for the corn. I smiled and said thank you, took the bag, and stood across from him at the bin, picking through the corn quietly. I was having trouble finding any that looked good when he spoke up again, "Seems this corn didnt grow very well, did it?" I nodded in agreement, and then took a better look at him. He had on a "Retired U.S. Army" hat, and big square glasses, grey hair framed a strong face, on a body made small by time. I doubt he was ever a big man, but you could see he had been a strong one. He looked weathered and worn, but distinguised, too, in a suit jacket over a crisp white collared shirt.

He was the kind of man that makes you want to stop and talk for a minute...or at least makes ME want to. So many people are so quick to walk by the elderly, dismiss them, forget the sacrifices they made to make this country great. I love old people, my mom worked in a nursing home the entire time I was growing up, and I learned to love and respect them through her. I stood looking at this man, and I knew it was silly, but I wanted to talk to him awhile, right there in the grocery store, shucking corn, I wanted to hear his story, and to take the time to listen to whatever he had to say.

"US Army Retired, huh?" I said
"Yes ma'am, thats right."
"When were you in?"
"WWII, Burma (Myanmar)" he said more, but I cant remember them all
"What did you do?"
"I was in the signal corp, in a combat zone but fairly safe. I was lucky."
He talked more about the war, and I thanked him for his service. Then he really started talking.

"You know, not many people take the time to listen to us old soldier's tell their war stories."
"I love hearing them, thank you for sharing them with me."
"Well, you are a good listener, I havent talked to anyone for this long in over three years. I think I have about enough corn now, only needed 2 pieces."
"2? Are you shopping for your wife and you?"
"Yes, she is in advanced stage Alzheimers disease, hasnt spoken in three years, except the occasional cuss word. She cant tell the difference from one food to the next anymore, but I keep feedin it to her."
"Oh, Im so sorry, that must be hard. Do you not have any help? None of your children help out?"
"Oh, we didnt have children, I was only 17 when I left for training, and by the time we were ready, it just didnt happen for us. We just lived for each other then."
"That's very sweet. But you dont get hospice or meals for me or anything to help you?"
"No, I made a vow to this woman the day I married her, 'till death do us part'. Taking care of her is my job, and I dont want no welfare."

I am now almost in tears, he is standing straight with his shoulders back and his head high, and I certainly am not about to argue with him. He doesnt seem like a fragile old man now, he seems powerful, strong, capable. I want to ask his phone number, to find a way to keep in touch, this stranger that feels like a friend. I want to hug him, but it seems more respectful to shake his hand. I ask his name, it is Ben.

"Nice to meet you, Ben. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, I have enjoyed it."
"Have a nice day, young lady," he says, and I realize, he is right. I am young. I feel old, feel like life is rushing by me. But I will live many years in the next blink of my eyes. My children will grow to adulthood, the world will change, but always, always, there will be love. May it be as powerful and sure as Ben's for his wife.

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