There was a time when I thought 76 was old. But not today. I turn 76 and am blessed with good health, a fine wife, and full life, so 76 seems fine. But still, ….
To explain: the first was William, my college roommate, who I always called Willie or Charlie. He died twenty-five years ago when his testicular cancer of our college days returned with a vengeance. Then Dave, who all of us called by his surname Hooper or even Hoop and a fellow teacher/coach, died of another cancer eighteen years ago, and James, who I called Jim, was a good friend killed by a heart attack fourteen years ago as he was readying his boat for his yearly two weeks on Lake George. These three from my early life and three others who came later have been with me all day.
There is Helen the Oxford poet, the lover of her annual, late summer visits to the Isle of Skye, her hats, and her poetry; Bill the Oxford artist who walked miles of Oxfordshire with me, all the while teaching me about history, geology, butterflies, good pints, and more. Then there is Clare, the Canadian with whom I worked in Oxford and for whom a garden bench in Corpus Christi is dedicated. The bench plaque reads, “And here I still am.”
For reasons I do understand, and for some beyond my comprehension, each is with me today. Their presence is not a haunting one, or one causing regret and its companion sadness. Their presence does, however, cause reflection, sort of an interior reckoning of me by me. Their presence causes me to take an account for the years I have lived beyond theirs, and it forces me to think about all that I have had that their diseases did not allow. Finally, I see their presence as the gift it is; a reminder to live each day the words on Clare’s bench—“And here I still am.”