An elderly man lives near me who no doubt cut an impressive figure in his day. He has since shrunken to the size of his ever diminishing function. Which is small. But when I see him driving around town, with a restricted license prohibiting highway driving, he still seems larger than life to me.
In a long-sleeved flannel shirt and jeans whether it's 9 degrees or 90, he peers with sharp, blue eyes from under an ancient ball cap, giving careful consideration to each house, each lawn, each child he passes. His gray truck rumbles slowly down the alley, rifle mounted on the rack in his cab, and I catch a glimpse of his weathered skin and smile at the white stubble on his face.
When I bring him a small plate of zucchini muffins or half a dozen eggs, he unfailingly shows me his seashell collection. Alternating between telling me the far-fetched yet undoubtedly true story behind each shell and cursing at his loudly blaring TV, his frail voice wobbles like a newborn foal. I stare at the sepia photo on the wall of a strapping young man in uniform, ready to save the world. As a member of The Greatest Generation, I guess you could say he did.
He makes me wonder about life, and time, and age. At ninety-some years old, will I be all alone? Will my world be shrunken down to the size of the TV in my front room and a restricted license? Will my life...matter?
Maybe I'm not asking the right questions. My second son was less than two weeks old when I heard a gentle knock on my door. There he was, my diminutive, old neighbor, with a soft, blue blanket in his hands.
"It's fer the baby," he said, the creak in his voice similar to the one in my hardwood floor. "I made it."
I was touched down to my very soul. "Thank you," I responded, with a certain amount of reverence. He looked down at his feet, embarrassed.
"Hell, it ain't nuthin'," he said.
Then he shuffled away, the bow in his legs undisguised by his blue jeans. I'll never forget that. And I'm still pondering what exactly I could or should learn from such a man. From someone with eyes keen enough to spot an interesting shell on a Philippine beach and a young woman across the alley whose enormous belly was suddenly replaced by a baby boy. Will I be ninety-some years old before I know?
It was my son's favorite blanket.