An old man's refuge


See the old man, in his slippers, a steaming coffee cup warming his gnarled hands, the proverbial weight of his years lying heavy on his slumping shoulders—he is content.  But how can that be?  His best days are long behind him.  His kids have grown; his friends are dead, as well as most of his family.  All he has left are memories that flicker behind his faded eyes like an 8 millimeter movie on an old sheet tacked to the wall, always just out of reach and never really in focus, like the fragrant steam floating in translucent wisps above his coffee cup, here for a moment and gone before he can get a good look or even take his first sip.

But it’s not about clarity anymore, is it?  It hasn't been for awhile.  It’s about feelings now, it’s about space, and it’s about ambiance.  As he walks about his familiar surroundings, he runs his fingers over a wall—it’s a barricade against an increasingly dark and hostile world.  He feels the warmth of his tattered robe.  Familiar smells caress his nose:  Old Spice here, bath soap there.  The kitchen smells faintly of bacon and coffee.  His settles into his recliner. 

The memories are all around him, photos in cheap frames, shy smiles and awkward poses, candid shots—“hey, turn around!” or “Look over here!” —all from so long ago, it’s almost like it was somebody else holding the camera, like he wasn't even there, like when his grandfather used to talk about getting up and going to work in the 50’s.  You know he did it, hell, you did the same thing in the 80’s, but holy crap, you’re thinking of the cars and the clothes and the music, things you see in history books or old magazines, and you can’t even comprehend that people actually lived and worked in those times and places.  It’s surreal, like an old Mayberry episode, with Andy and Barney and the guys at the barbershop, and it’s quiet and simple and full of canned laughter.  But his grandfather did it, and he had his stories and pictures to prove it. 

Young folks can’t believe it.  They think it’s sad, the way the old guy trundles around his place in his slippers and offers coffee every time they come over.  What kind of life is that, they wonder?  Living in this musty house with his old pictures and his sepia toned stories of what things were like when he was young like they are now, it’s depressing.  Eventually they leave him to his memories with assurances to return when they can stay longer.

The old man kicks back his recliner and shakes out his paper.  He savors his coffee.  The years weigh heavily on his old bones, to be sure, but it’s not the burden these youngsters think it is— they surround him like a cherished quilt, tattered in places, but nonetheless warm and comforting. 

The world is not what it used to be, but the old man; he rests easy just the same.  He has lived the life he wanted and done the things he had to do and whether the kids believe it or not, he is fulfilled.

This old man, he is content.