Two dying men met on the street the other day.
One was in an electric wheelchair, outside for the first time in a long time. He drove around the yard where his great-grandson, a toddler, was playing. He drove up the road to see where the old house had burned down, and to see the new foundation being built. He said hello to his neighbors, his friends.
The other man arrived in a car. Through the window, he waved at the man in the wheelchair as his wife pulled over to the side of the road. Slowly, as though it cost him to move, he walked across the street and smiled. His was a face used to smiling, though it sagged slightly under the weight of pain.
“How are ya?” he asked.
“I’m okay,” the first man replied, hoarse voice cracking.
And the second man sat down, in the middle of the street, at the feet of the first.
We – the second man’s wife, myself, and my husband (whose grandfather sat in the wheelchair) – simply stood back a bit, holding space.
They talked of sickness, of course. Cancer. How they had gotten the news, and what choices they’d had to make. The man sitting on the road said how sick the treatment had made him, and it was clear in his lopsided figure and swollen eyes. Our grandfather said how far gone it already was, and that he hadn’t had much of a choice. No treatment for him.
“How long did they give you?” he asked.
It wasn’t that he asked it; it was the way he said it that took gravity from our chests and laid it bare, as though the moment itself was suspended in our collectively held breath.
“They won’t say, now . . .” and it was understood that the treatment had ended, and so, too, would his life, though the doctors were loath to commit. “How ‘bout you?”
“Oh, could be a couple weeks, could be a month.”
Though we – the wife, the grandson, and I – exchanged glances, the two dying men were steady. They had eyes only for each other.
They talked of other things, of renting lakeside cabins and the local garbage service.
One man was in a lot of pain, the other had none. One slept a lot, the other woke in the night. By all accounts, the two men could be exchanging niceties at the local diner.
Well, except for their eyes, and the intensity of their gaze. Though we – a wife, a son, a mother – were there, nearby anyway, we could never actually be there, with those men.
Like watching two people fall in love, almost, but more solid, like a mountain instead of a cloud, we witnessed two men dying – together, for a moment.