Table for Two Old Guys — By Ecumen Blogger Jim Klobuchar

Across the lunch table, two eighty-something guys have a meeting of the hearts.  

We meet once a month at a suburban Minneapolis Perkins restaurant that is reasonably accessible to both of us. We’re never quite sure whose turn it is to cover the bill, so one or the other pays randomly until sooner or later we examine our check registers and discover that the  other guy has done it three times in a row.

Apologies and reams of forgiveness follow.  And the scene is certain to be repeated a couple of months later. We’re both in our mid-80s and have known each other for more than half that time. My friend was a professor at the university for, well, ages. And I made my living in newspapering for more than 50 years, at which  time I reached the statute of limitations in these things and ventured into a strange new world without deadlines.

We met on the Inca Trail in Peru where I was escorting a group of travelers primarily from Minnesota. It was activity I organized for an adventure travel club apart from my day job. The newspaper had no objection as long as I managed to avoid some actual calamity that might have reflected awkwardly on the paper’s due diligence and good judgment in its choice of employees.

Over the years we had shared the trail in remarkable settings—a trek to Everest’s base camp in the Himalayas, the Valley of the Kings in Egypt’s Sahara, Murchison Falls in Africa’s Uganda and more. On all of these safaris the professor was a popular companion, relatively quiet but always available for some of the camp chores or the random needs of partners on the trail. I pretty much lost sight of him on the long drag on our return from one of the glaciers in the Himalayas. There were 15 of us. With the sun disappearing, we were at least an hour from camp. I was worried about one of the trekkers who had been tiring and was now no longer in sight. While the others moved on toward our next overnight camp, I doubled back on the trail.

In time I  spotted the professor a half mile  behind us  on the trail, keeping company with a tiring hiker who had somehow fallen behind the group at a time when our Sherpas were  fixing the suspension bridge we needed to cross.

The professor had decided he was in no hurry. So he waited until the tiring trekker caught up, and slowly they walked side by side. After a time the professor strapped his companion’s pack onto his own. By now I’d walked down the trail to join them, and eventually we caught up with the others.

In the years that followed, the professor and I met occasionally. He’s retired and lost his wife  several years ago but remains active as a  bicyclist, enjoys hosting his adult children and  puts on a good show of surprise when I arrive for our lunches with the gift of another three or four  classical music CDs from our bulging stocks at home.

Our talk at lunch a few days ago got around to relationships. The professor is a man with a broad range of social and political interests but careful not to give offense when discussing them in a group. He is also a man of courtesy and a relatively quiet voice that takes pains to avoid intrusion.

But on this day he wanted to offer the reflection of a man feeling a simple gratitude.  “You know,” he said, “these funny little lunches we have here aren’t just time fillers for me.  I’m one of those people who needs a renewal of some of those times in our lives and the faces that mattered…the relationships in our lives…something that tells us that there is still trust and understanding.”

I nodded.  With this fellow, I never had any doubts.

But age in itself is never the tyrant, he was saying. It’s abandoning our relationships, when we are still strong enough and agile enough to enjoy them. When, in fact, we need them.

I nodded to my friend.

“Yes, this is hardly a revelation,” he said. “But sometimes you want and need a kind a validation of, well, the good times, or the trust you put in people. The feeling that for all the satire you hear about it, it’s still a journey.  So I think you need a renewal of that — something that reinforces the idea that the trust you put in the people of your life is still there.”

“And the joy,” he added.

“Nevertheless,” I said, “it’s your turn to pay the bill.”