This afternoon, I had an interesting encounter. I had arranged to meet a writer friend who I used to go to university with. We decided we’d meet at a local coffee shop off the beaten track for a catch-up. I was so looking forward to the meeting, and not just for coffee and cake! This friend of mine is a prolific script writer and poet and I love hearing her ideas and how she’s progressing. Not to mention she is a jolly good human being to boot.
As I picked a table for two, I noticed an elderly gentleman on the next table, occupying a six seater so I assumed he was waiting for someone. We were literally about three minutes into our catch up when the gentleman turned around and apologised to my companion for coughing as we spoke. My friend, as friendly as always, told him not to worry and that it couldn’t be helped. That was the last time I heard my friend talk for another 57 minutes.
This lovely, sad old gentleman regaled us with tales of his childhood, his marriage and his life as it gained years. He told us about the fascists at the golf club who had told him he was no longer welcome in the communal dining room, about his sailing trips and his inability to stand up to his bully of a father.
He sat and tore strips of toilet paper until he had finished the roll (nerves, perhaps?) whilst telling us about his life and his dreams to be involved in literature. At the grand old age of 92, with all of his faculties still in tact, this man was a marvel. I could have sat and cried as he got choked up telling us about wife and his mother.
Every so often, he would apologise for talking so much but say “I’m so lonely” and I would feel guilty for wishing to have time to talk to my friend. How long was it since he’d had a conversation with someone? We forget how lucky we are.
My friend and I kept catching each other’s eyes and smiling sympathetically until the man asked us what we did. I say we, he was mainly directing the conversation to my friend, and she told him we were writers. To this he responded by asking if we’d be prepared to send him some of our work and so addresses ended up being swapped.
We bid him goodbye and walked to our cars and I felt so relieved as my friend said “It’s like that story of the photographer who sees a car crash and, instead of helping, takes photos. I was listening to him the whole time and thinking ‘This is great material’.” She looked sheepish until I began to laugh and said “Me too!” I guess it’s what was drummed into us during our course – look around, inspiration is everywhere.
I’ve thought about it since I arrived home, how easy it is to take one’s life for granted. In the blink of an eye any one of us could be that old man sitting at the table wondering where his life went.
His final words to us: “I may not write back immediately as I like to go out and have fun. It’s no good if you don’t enjoy life.”