At age 16 I was his dietary aide working my first official job (the kind where they took out Social Security tax) and we slowly got to know one another over institutional green lime jello and bad coffee. When I left for a job where they paid more I kept coming back to visit him on a weekly basis. I’d walk in the doors of the nursing home and the aides would say, ”Walter’s been looking forward to your visit all day”—as if I was doing him a favor when really, it was the other way around. He was a simple man with a good sense of humor. He listened to my anxious teenage woes. When my boyfriend broke up with me he joked that it was okay—he’d be my boyfriend. He was never mean, creepy or cross. He listened and he was such a balm in my life.
When he died I went to his funeral at a local church. Through blurry tear filled eyes and ears I heard my name. The pastor spoke of a young woman who’d been his friend and meant so much to him. It made me cry even more. I learned then and there a valuable lesson: slow down, listen, and be open to connecting with another kindred spirit—no matter their age, gender or circumstance. I’ll carry the gift of Walter’s friendship forever.