I have a Lifetimer, Mr. Frank Werner. My mother introduced us. I met Mr. Frank Werner when he was 89, and I was 12. He went to our church, and he lived in an apartment next to our city park. I would visit him after school on Tuesdays.
I would climb the staircase to his apartment and knock on his door. He knew that I’d be coming. I’d let myself in.
He would always be sitting in his favorite overstuffed chair next to the window. The light from the window behind his chair would surround him. Angelic. He’d be staring straight ahead, and he’d acknowledge my entrance with a smile and a hello. Mr. Frank Werner was blind. Aging had stolen his sight. It was my “job” to read to him. He chose the reading material for each visit – the newspaper, Time Magazine, a novel, or his mail. I’d pull up a stool next to his chair and begin to read.
Mr. Frank Werner listened and smiled, and without fail, every visit, I cried. Not crying with sobs and sniffling, but rather, silent tears rolled down my cheeks. I was grateful, in those moments, that Mr. Frank Werner couldn’t see. He couldn’t see me crying. I could keep my crying a secret. I worked to keep my voice from cracking. I didn’t want him to think I was sad. I didn’t want to have to explain that my tears were of happiness not sadness. I just wanted him to know that I was happy to be there. Present, with him. Mr. Frank Werner taught me about aging, about humility, about time management, about caring, about being a friend. He taught me a lot without saying a word.
I specifically remember a visit when Mr. Frank Werner got up from his chair to go to the bathroom. When he returned, his shirt was untucked and his trousers were only half-way zipped. I remember thinking about his vulnerability – about his lack of eyesight – about his reaction if he knew that he was not put together. I imagined that if he could see, he’d be dressed impeccably. If he could see, he wouldn’t need a reader – if he could see, he wouldn’t probably need me.
However, what I’ve found since, long after Mr. Frank Werner’s passing, is that Mr Frank Werner needed me as much as I needed him. With or without eyesight, we were friends – looking beyond imperfections, age and gender differences and personal needs and accepting each other “as is.”
My mother bought Mr. Frank Werner’s secretary desk from his estate. She gave it to me. Every move, every house, I find a place for that desk and for every space, I try to make sure it sits in a quiet spot with natural sunlight. Until now, I’ve kept it a secret, but I’ve pulled up a chair and read out loud to my friend, Mr. Frank Werner, and yes, again, tears have streamed down my cheeks – tears acknowledging a lifetime friendship, not tears for a fleeting, part-timing friendship fling.
Mr. Frank Werner is a Lifetimer in my book- a book that I would read anytime, anyplace, and to anyone who would listen.