40: Doing It for Bill

40: Doing It for Bill

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Doing It for Bill

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.

~Seneca

I decided something extraordinary for myself after my friend — who waited for me outside a posh restaurant on a busy Saturday night during a cold, winter spell — yelled at me through her tears that she had been freezing. I asked her why she didn’t wait inside.

“I’m not going to go inside… all by myself!” Tammy said.

And that said it all. Being alone was motivation enough to freeze. Was I to be blamed for that? Nope! But I wondered what my own freezing point was.

I was determined to not “freeze” myself out from a concert, or a café, a dance club or bar, just because I was a party of one. I made a list of all the things I wanted to do but could not find anyone to do them with. It was longer than I had expected. Even accepting a house party invitation depended on who was going and what exact time a friend would arrive so we could enter together.

I wrote out that list, but I didn’t do anything about it until I met Bill. He was the senior I was to visit one day as a volunteer at the senior center. I never volunteered for anything, but when this workplace initiative came up and many opted not to do it, I felt it was time. After all, how could one day out of 365 be scary when it was just visiting some old folks?

Bill had outlived his twin brother, parents and friends. He never married and had no children. Mentally astute, with a soft voice and dry humor, he was eighty-two years old. He was physically incapable of moving around unless he was in his wheelchair, which he called his convertible.

“I got to take her out,” he would say. I thought he meant the same outdoors that everyone living outside the facility would experience, but he chuckled and said, “We aren’t allowed to go outside unless all of us are going. That doesn’t happen too often.”

There were many like him, wheeling from one long corridor to another in their convertibles, and then pivoting to return and do it all over again. This was the only freedom Bill had now.

So, after he talked about his life, his youth, what life was like “behind bars,” and music, movie and television legends like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, he turned the light off himself and pointed it directly at me.

“What do you want to do that you always wanted to do but were too afraid?” he asked.

It was like he knew I had put that list together! Amazed, but willing to see where this conversation would go, I gave him my list. I never thought of it as a bucket list, although Bill said we were never too young or too old to make one. The “tiny stuff,” he called it — like going to a movie alone on a weekend or drinking coffee in a café without having any cellphone, magazine, or book to read — seemed lame to him. But when I told him about the really big item on my list, he said something so profound and meaningful.

I told him that I had racked up four weeks of overtime from work, and there was no way I wanted to waste them cleaning house or doing errands. I could, though, book a trip to the “land of the rising sun” — a place I knew nothing about, including the culture, language, people, or places to go or stay. I just wanted to go to see how resourceful I was without a safety net and perhaps even to see if I enjoyed my own company.

“What’s holding you back?” Bill asked.

I explained all the risks and dangers, and just when I tried to verbalize more reasons, Bill stopped me in a roar of excitement. He said, “If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for me!”

Understand this: Bill was a stranger to me. I owed him nothing when I first met him, but maybe I did after a few hours together. He exchanged my time for his wisdom.

He spoke about how life at the home was spent doing the same thing every day. There were the same faces, the same rooms, the same noises, the same smells, and those same convertibles lined up to be driven down the same hallways that were his world’s boundaries. Although he had accepted his fate, he assured me that if he had my legs, he would make a beeline to the front door and never look back to say goodbye. He would keep walking, and walking, and walking.

I gave him a kiss on my way out. I promised him that I would book that trip. In his parting words to me, he said that he would imagine Japan in March with the cherry blossom trees blooming, and me there. And that would be new scenery for him as he drove his convertible down the hallway.

Less than one month after meeting Bill, I booked my solo trip. I left for Japan during their cherry blossom season, and I found myself good company for a whole month’s worth of memories. I took Bill with me in spirit and just kept walking.

~Wendy Ann Rich

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