Just a year ago, he rolled his wife’s wheelchair up and down the hallways. And each time he passed a woman, he’d stop dead in his tracks and say, “Oh, my! I’m the luckiest man in the WORLD to be surrounded by so much BEAUTY! It’s too much, I tell you! What’s a guy to do? All these beauties in one place! Wow!” If skilled nursing facilities had “Hall of Fame” nominations the same way high schools do, he would be awarded the title of “Class Flirt” every year.
Now, I don’t know him personally, but I have to say that each time I saw him coming, he made me smile. He never said it in the cheesy, mildly creepy way that some older guys do, either. He actually appeared to be awe struck. Like somehow, he had won the Pretty Girl lottery just by moving to that particular facility with his frail, quiet, soul of wife who day after day, sat placidly while he scooped compliments sweet as ice cream onto every other female within scooping distance.
A few months ago, his wife moved on without him. Turns out, she didn’t need the wheelchair where she was going. And now, it is just him and the chair.
In nursing homes, time is measured in the space between heartbeats. Last week, I saw my friend resting in a recliner in the lounge. He was watching, of all things, the final scenes of the film “The Shawshank Redemption” on the large flat screen T.V. It was lunchtime, and pretty, young, nursing assistants ambled past in the hallway carrying trays of meat loaf and mashed potatoes or pushing the wheelchairs of residents to the dining room. Every so often, one of them would glance into the lounge where he sat engrossed in the movie, a white blanket pulled up under his chin. In the film, Brooks, the oldest prisoner, gets parole after fifty years of incarceration. After the character’s release, he finds that he misses the other inmates and the life he had in prison. The old man and I sit at opposite ends of the lounge, watching the credits for the film flash on the screen, each of us considering the ending in our own way.
There is a brutality to a man growing old all alone. It pulls hard at one’s heart.
Back in something resembling real life, a long legged blonde in pastel scrubs helps the man who reminds her of her grandfather to his feet, pivots, and settles him ever-so-gently into his wheelchair. She kneels closely and asks him if he is ready for lunch. He looks deeply into her eyes. And then he beams. What’s not to love about a pretty young thing taking an old man to lunch, after all?
A year ago, he saw the beauty in every woman he met.
His smile tells me that he still does.
Today, that is enough for me.