On the weekend Phil and I were at the market, standing in the checkout line. A very elderly gentleman walked up to us and struck up a conversation.
“I can’t remember what I came in for. I came in for a large scotch and some bent bananas, and I’ll probably walk out with a tin opener.”
We smiled politely in that way that you do when strangers that you don’t want to talk to start conversations. And he was off and running…obviously all there mentally, very sharp and even funny, but so desperate to talk to someone.
During the short conversation he volunteered the information that he used to be a glider pilot. Phil told me a bit about them later – these were soldiers who were towed and then released, where they could basically crash-land behind enemy lines to secure bridges, etc. This would make him eighty-ish.
He was charming, but we moved on as soon as we could, paid for our groceries and walked out. And I had tears in my eyes thinking that it would be hell to be so lonely, that you would go to the market every single day even if you didn’t buy anything, just so that you could say to someone “this is who I was…I am not this person that you see, I was brave.” Yes, he’s mobile and he can obviously take care of himself, but gods…how horrible to be so lonely.
Our village needs the New York-style chessboards in the park, where all of the old-timers can gather for free and talk. Yes, there are pubs, but pints cost money.
I never want to be alone…
2 thoughts on “This Is Who I Am”
“Gorgeous weather isn’t it”, he started with… as we acknowledged… “I used to be in gliders you know, back in the War, and it was a day like this we landed in Norway – blue skies, and warm as anything, but germans everywhere there were…”
God knows what he’s seen – even if he’s done nothing in the 60 years since – towed for hours over the North Sea, in a flimsy wooden plane with no engine… to get one shot at a safe landing – usually within enemy territory. The mind boggles.
But – how do you avoid spending your ‘end days’ alone?
Loneliness can suck. Even with a crowd of people around.