Harry is a very kind man, and he is getting on in years. Having just turned 87, his back is a little hunched these days. His right knee has been wonky for ages, but only on a really bad day will he resort to using a walking stick. “I don’t really need it,” he said to me once. “But it’s good to lean on. Something in my hand to hold on to.” He hesitated for a few seconds before continuing, “I always miss my wife. She’s been gone almost 13 years now.”
His movements are slow and deliberate. Always. He is never in a hurry, Harry. Never. Yet his steps have a surprisingly youthful spring to them, and his eyes are bright and clear; every time we speak they look into mine with a gentle light.
“So what did you do today? Busy?” I asked him yesterday. I bumped into him in the late afternoon just as he was leaving the grocery store. He smiled. “Oh, not much,” he replied in his familiar soft voice. “Just more of the same. I mowed the lawn, cleared the weeds from a couple of the flower beds. Oh, and I mended the fence – had to, or it would have crumbled and fallen down. Would mean even more work had I let that happen!” He looked decidedly chuffed, almost self-satisfied, and with the back of his hand he stroked his forehead as if remembering his relief at a taxing job well done. “Afterwards I made myself a cup of coffee and had a lie down for half an hour. And now,” he said, holding up the bulging carrier bag he clutched in his left hand, “I’ve been getting some shopping done for John and Ann, you know the ol’ couple who live in the yellow main buiding up at the disused farm? When I checked in on them yesterday, I found they had hardly any food left in their larder, so I said I’d pop in this afternoon with a few bits and bobs. You know, it’s bad – they’re well passed 80, and lumbered with ill health they are housebound. Both of them. I worry about them all the time – we all have to eat,” he said with a concerned look on his face. Then he added, almost inaudibly, “I like to help out when I can.” This last sentence of his not only sounded modest, Harry looked it. Genuinely humble. He spoke in a way only someone with an intimate, firsthand knowledge about need and vulnerability can. I smiled: “You’re a good man, Harry!”
That’s all I could think of saying. It was as if whichever words were necessary and important had been spoken. Now the two of us stood in silence for a minute or so, a stillness born out the nurturing womb of mutual regard and good will.
It was I who broke the silence. “I have to go, I’m sorry,” I said, looking at my watch. “I have to get my groceries done before they close. Anyway, I’ll have to let you go, too – I’m sure John and Ann are getting hungry!” We both laughed. “Yes, I bet!” Harry said. “And I have to get home before dusk sets in. I always put a few carrots out in the garden for the deer, and they usually arrive just about the time the sun sets. Take care,” he said, lightly lifting his hat, “Have a lovely afternoon!” “You, too; Harry. Give my regards!” I replied before disappearing into the shop.
Walking amongst the shelves, putting one item after the other into my basket, all of them for myself, not for anybody else, I kept getting lost in thought about what I might be like at 87. “I hope I will be more like Harry,” I suddenly heard myself mumble as I slipped a packet of crackers into my basket. I paused for a moment. “In fact I’d like to be a lot more like Harry,” I thought. “And now already.”