a meeting of backwards ages

A 72-year old man named Jim

Tells me he is a 42-year recovering alcoholic

He’s sat next to me on the plane and we chat

And we chat

And for the next 3 hours, we chat

And I don’t ask many questions

before he tells me how

in the last 3 years he’s

had a heart attack,

a kidney failure,

a kidney transfer,

(his sister gave him one of hers)

How he’d been through months of dialysis and

if his kidneys fail again,

he’ll choose to ride it out next time.

No need to extend his lifespan

at this life’s time.

And just 7 months ago

his son died from a head-on collision

His neck broke; it was instant.

For that, he utters:

God is merciful,

between one bout of tears.

All through this,

his dear wife

who’s sat next to him in the aisle seat

had been the primary caregiver for her mom

who also died last year.

But now that Jim is turning up on his health

she can take care of her own (what a woman).

The wait is on, four months

Two knees

Replacement surgeries.

And with this all, she says

We’ve still been very blessed.

At some point she asks me how old I am.

Oh we’re the same age, she exclaims, but backwards!

And on the last string of my giggles,

I wonder how my backwards age will be.

And what I would share

To a person at the window seat

With half a century

Of their unmade stories in between us.

Would they need to have an inquiring mind to know me,

Or would I be aware enough of my mortality

To just talk their ear off

Like Jim had done with me, so generously.

In his AA meetings

Gratitude Days arrive

And he tells me how each time

He can’t help but think

I’m grateful it wasn’t me

Waking up on the bathroom floor anymore

Walking into the middle of the street anymore

Getting run over

Like someone in town had

He says between tears

I’m grateful it wasn’t me.

42 years sober

And recovering

What led you there in the first place

Genetics and Depression.

And six months into marriage

His wife told him he’d have to quit

Or she’d have to quit and leave.

But how do you quit a disease

He said, She was a bit naive when we met,

I was a social guy, life of the party

And her quiet, reserved nature liked that about me

But she didn’t like that he could drink a 60

and still be well to drive.

AA changed everything

Gave him a special purpose to his life

Speaking and role modeling

Seeing the current lives,

the would-be lives,

the could-be lives,

of those in his same place 42 years ago.

42 years sober since

(And recovering), he says,

Because you’re always recovering.