My friend Eric has metastatic liver cancer, so the friendship we’ve forged over the years based mostly on playing golf and watching Beaver football together has taken an unexpected turn. He’s about my age but appears younger. Neither of us is what you’d expect someone with cancer to look like, although it's unlikely anyone would mistake us for movie versions of Redford and Newman.
An interesting thing happened yesterday as Eric and I were leaving church on our way to Elmer’s for breakfast. It’s the sort of incident you have to chalk up to divine providence.
As we walked across the parking lot, a mutual friend who’s 91 and in good health, rolled down the window of the car he was driving, and offered his sympathy to us both. Eric helped sell the house that Erwin and his wife were living in three years ago, and they became fast friends through the process. I’ve known Erwin less well, but we always speak when we run into each other. He’s a fine man, and always has something positive to say.
So there we were, two 50-something men feeling sorry for ourselves chatting with a nonagenarian who drives his own car. He spoke to us with as much compassion and sincerity as anyone we heard from that morning. Our short conversation had a beginning, a middle and an end. It was not just a pat on the back or a frown and tilt of the head from across a crowded room. Erwin locked eyes with us, furrowed a brow and somehow found words we both needed to hear.
At 91, Erwin knows pain and loss, including the death of his wife, Jeannie, a couple of years ago. He also won the lottery, genetically speaking, and may outlive us both. I’m not envious of those who live such long lives. Few people will do it as well as Irwin has. But this man gave us something yesterday that’s rarer than you think—a piece of himself. It was a remarkable encounter.