A couple of months ago, I took my friend to a doctor’s appointment to get her cast changed; she had recently broken her ankle and the cast she had was not going to make it through the healing. I agreed to drive her over to her appointment and just sit in the waiting room with my daughter and sister until she was done. During our brief time in that waiting room we had the most extraordinary encounter with a most extraordinary man; this man was a student of life, forever curious and exceptionally friendly. He wore a U.S. Navy ball cap and a calm, knowing grin. I now refer to this man in conversations as “Forever Young Harry” and he was a real breath of fresh air in the normally stale and stagnant waiting room of life.
As it is designed, everything we encounter in one way or another reflects our inner world at the time or soon to it or a little prior. “As within, so without.” Harry was a prime example of this, and of many other things for that matter. The man arrived to the office after us and had a seat diagonally across from my daughter and I. He was an older gentleman, 88, to be exact, as I would soon learn. He seemed to have a permanent semi smile on his face, as though his lips knew not what a frown should be. He had one of the most child-like positive vibes that I have witnessed for an older fellow. It was reminiscent of my Grandmother’s energy; in her devout old age she still retained a perpetual child-like curiosity for life in her heart. He immediately started eying up my daughter, an act that always makes a mother’s antenna come out and so I felt him out as I saw him watching her. He wasn’t a creepy old man, though, far from it, and as he started to speak to her directly, you could tell he was simply curious and delighted in her youthful presence.
He started speaking to me freely and openly like we were old friends, he wasn’t bashful at all, almost to a comedic degree. Watching him interact with others in the room made me realize how people mostly enjoy sitting together in mutual silence in public places, unaware of the intimacy that could be taking place. Harry seemed well aware of this opportunity. In fact, Harry seemed very aware, in general. I think he started the conversation by commenting on my face and hat, he was checking me out but not in an uncomfortable way, just as though everything was a work of art. I think the tattoo on my forearm had originally caught his attention. He mentioned that he “studied” things, he even used the word study, which delighted me. He said about studying the birds and the trees and how much he enjoys these simple pleasures. When he told me how much he loves trees, I could feel my heart grow into his a little. He said about being able to study things, like my face and then draw it perfectly later at home. Harry was an observing artist and it was evident by the way that he took in the world. I will never know if a sketch of my wire frames and wild mane are in the man’s sketchbook somewhere, or just floating around in his keen memory. He had a real zest for life, and he apparently lived a good one.
He eagerly began to tell me a good amount of his life’s story, at least the amount of any one life that can be reduced down to words that will fit in about 45 minutes worth of time. He was a veteran, having served in World War II in the Navy, he told me tales of his days in the service. He said about how much sign language he spoke on the ship and then spelled out his name, “H-A-R-R-Y! That’s my name!” Harry said that it was his job on the ship to assign everyone to the position that they would be best suited for. It was his job, essentially, to get to know you intimately in a short amount of time; I guess you could say, long enough to feel out what you are good at and send you there. Oh, the adventures aboard his ship! He delighted in sharing them. What he left out in words, he conveyed in emotion and energy; his eyes were an open door. I took his station, getting to know him intimately in a short amount of time. Once when they were stationed in Texas, everyone on the ship got the same tattoo from this woman tattoo artist, who he said had tattoos on the back of her eyelids! His tattoo, though faded and spread, held strong to its symbol even without the clear image; for being embedded in an 88 year old canvas, it wasn’t too bad, surprisingly.
He shared his memory of the day that it was announced over the speakers on the ship that WWII was over. His temporary life at sea, all that he had grown to know, had come to an end. After the war, he worked flying in planes plotting new roads, exciting work for Harry, who loved seeing things from a different perspective. This took him to different places and he shared about his years in Niagra Falls; though beautiful, he said they were the coldest of winters he had ever known. He was settled locally now. “If you’re ever out on Orchard Street drop by!” he invited, a couple of times, actually. He spoke of his wife, and family. He expressed his love of children and told how just the last week they had their grandchildren over and he had one on his back and a few in a wagon pulling them around. “I was just as excited as they were!” He said how his wife gets on him, worrying about his rough-housing still at 88 years old. “I could walk 5 miles home, right now!” he told me. I’d believe it! His wife was there that day to have an x-ray of her hand, and she was still back with the doctor when it was time for us to leave. We said our good-byes with smiles and warm wishes; as we were leaving I told the man “You stay forever young, Harry!” He smiled and chuckled back at me, “I’m trying!” I was never so sure of a promise in my life. “You certainly are!” I told him.
Much of life is Ego versus Soul. We fight against ourselves and sabotage our spirits as parts of us try to thwart our plans for personal growth, but it is only in vain if we honestly want to live a satisfying life. I think that the goal of life is to end up like Harry, to be driven and steered by your innately curious and compassionate True Self, not the imaginary, interjecting parts of Ego. Harry was a remarkable guy; he was the inner child Self-actuated. Harry was 88 years old and still thrilled by life daily, fascinated by it, drawn to study the wonder of its beauties. I pray that if I make it to 88 years old, I am able to retain that sense of wonderment and awe. I want to remain just as full and whole as Forever Young Harry. Nobody wants to end their days just sitting there, bitter, broken, and emptied out by their story. I think we can all learn a lesson from the man, I know that I have. People like Harry are important because they are a reminder that it is possible to be youthful at any age. Here’s to hoping that if I make it to 88 years young I am still kicking and grinning, still singing and living, still simply LIVING after all of those years, and, like Harry, doing my best to stay forever young.