He was small, but tough. Very tough. And very small.
When they needed someone to crawl through unimaginably tight spaces and fix, find or forage for what might keep them all alive another hour, he was their man.
He was small and tough and very intelligent. He spoke with authority, certainty and complexity. He didn’t have to tell you he was right. He always was.
I never knew this brave, tough, smart-as-hell soldier who fought in a gritty war that occurred a generation ago. Others did, however, and I have gleaned from them sporadic, bright bits and pieces of his colorful past.
The man I know is small and sweet and never remembers my name. He re-introduces himself to me every 30 minutes on a bad night, twice a shift on a good night. Most nights he sits quietly beside his wife, drinking his beer and enjoying a plate of shrimp or chicken or whatever the night’s special is.
Now and then, this small, sweet man wanders off, which, in turn, sets off a flurry of mild panic as his wife and friends check the bathrooms and search the outside deck and parking lot. They always find him, however, and bring him back inside.
He mostly calls me “Princess” because he remembers that moniker, and he offers to get ice when I need it and take out the trash when the night is ending. At first, I refused his offers to help, but his wife begged me to allow him to perform a few chores each night, “Because it makes him feel useful.” So now I do. And he always does, with a smile.
Once when I brought the dogs in to say hello, he snuck a couple of fries and shrimp to each. “No!” cried his wife as she realized what he was up to. “Don’t feed that to those dogs, it’ll make them sick.”
I dug in my purse and pulled out an ancient bag of treats. “Here, you can feed them these,” I told him. His wife mouthed a silent “thank you.”
As I drove to work yesterday, I saw him walking along the side of the road. “Uh oh,” I thought, slowing down. Should I stop and pick him up? Did anyone know he was out on his own?
At that moment, I watched him stop beside a tree and pull down a branch filled with white blossoms. He held the flowery cluster to his face and breathed deeply. Then he smiled.
Seconds later, his wife walked out the front door of a nearby house and called to him. He waved to her. All was okay. I sped up and continued on my way.
What would it feel like to live every day when every day is timeless? I wondered as I faced the first of what is a long stint of 27 shifts over the next 21 days. What would it feel like to have all the time in the world to take as much time as you want to enjoy a simple flower?
In his case, he has earned this time. As for me, time eventually will tell.