‘Hero’: a person who is admired for their courage,
outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
A few weeks ago, I got to spend an entire weekend with one of my heroes.
He’s a shadow of his former self, but holds on to an incredible memory, and intelligence that dwarves my unparalleled 33 years.
I had to pick my moments for conversation carefully – not at risk of upsetting any kind of balance, but because his old body needs rest. Whilst watching the TV, there were fleeting moments, between dozing, where he burst into life. Regaling tales of growing up, family life, and travelling the world.
He was a proud military man; a marine, in fact. And over the years, his quite meticulous and soldierly nature has softened gracefully, as his hair has greyed, and movement has slowed to a laboured shuffle.
On the first day of my visit, I got a bit of a fright. He didn’t get up. I assumed the whisky and Guinness we shared in the evening past, had helped him with an extra few hours in bed. Sadly not; the short (300 yard) trip to the local pub the night before, had left him quite breathless. I checked on him a couple of times, and brought him coffee – I could tell he was embarrassed and felt like a burden. He slowly started to perk up – but I couldn’t help notice, as I stood in his bedroom, just how small his exhausted body was, as he lay blanket-wrapped in his old bed. In my head, he’s still that fiercely fit and commanding presence; taking me swimming, ski-ing, cycling and walking – across some of the most beautiful parts of Highland Scotland.
Morning turned into afternoon – and he surfaced, very slowly. The body might fade, but the steadfast determination and willingness to put on a brave face, keep calm and carry on, never falters. He apologised – which humbled me; what did he have to be sorry for? Living an honest, courageous and rich 93 years – and getting tired? I welled up when he explained to me that ‘he and his body were just slowly wearing out’.
We had lunch, dinner and breakfast together – his portions paled in comparison to mine, as he can only manage very small amounts; his appetite isn’t what it used to be. But as the weekend and small meals progressed, the banter flowed. We reflected on the way in which the world had changed – harking back to a time where things were simple. And better.
I love hearing about his past – he’s an incredibly interesting guy. Well-travelled, very well educated – and from that, has nothing but great stories and wisdom to share. Each time I opened my mouth, I worried that my words were insignificant compared to his. But his eyes widened, and ears twitched when I told him about my life and world. It’s so different to his. In a really good way. Two diverse generations colliding and sharing their knowledge, like trans-continental tribes meeting for the first time, and being equally impressed by each other’s unusual wares.
It was hard to hear that he doesn’t get out as much anymore. And that many of his close friends have passed away. Yet, I smile when I find out that he still lives a reasonably enviable social life; taking himself down to his local on a Sunday most week for the roast dinner, and keeping in touch with his old business partner at weekly lunches.
When I left him, it was with a feeling of absolute joy, and genuine sadness. He’s a gem of a human – probably in the top 0.0001% of bestest people in the entire world. And I got him all to myself for two days. But I did that awful thing people do, as I drove off to his waving hand and huge smile; will he be ok on his own? Are his days in his house (without help) numbered? Will I see him again?
That’s a stupid way to think; I know this. What I was lucky enough to get my hands on that weekend, was more incredible memories, of time spent with my hero. And unlike younger me, I appreciate these times more than ever – with a wistful respect and gratefulness for being able to spend time in his company.
Grandpa, you’re amazing. I’ve always thought that – and I think it more each time I see you. I know you’re not going to last forever, but I thank my stars for every second I’ve been lucky enough to spend with you – and every precious second to come.
You’re a hero.