A couple of weeks ago, I made my annual pilgrimage to see Murray and Eleanor Enkin. Not only did Dr. Enkin deliver both my children, he was the one who encouraged me to create my first book of cartoons and to then find a publisher. To this day, I thank him for my wonderful education (as one of his medical artists) and I credit him for my eventual entry into the serious world of comic art.
The Helijet leaves from an obscure spot on the other side of the harbour from where I live. I can almost see where it lands. I packed an over night kit, walked down to the Sea Bus and in 20 minutes, I was sitting in the small waiting room, watching the sea planes lifting off and wheeling into an overcast morning sky. Six business people anxious to get to Victoria, and a couple of easygoing travellers like me packed into the cabin of the Helijet, and in no time we were rising from the dock as waves along the edge blew furiously away in great white sheets. Our pilot was an attractive young woman; her copilot a handsome young man. They were two people capable of the most astonishing magic. No matter how often I fly, or in what kind of aircraft, I always believe I’m experiencing a miracle!
It took about an hour to get to Victoria. By then, it was raining and a taxi was waiting for me. The Enkins live in a small house on a quiet street in an older neighbourhood. A sign on the door read: “Keep ringing the bell. We can’t hear!” Murray and Eleanor opened the door together and welcomed me inside. They are both in their 90s now. They looked exactly the same to me as they did the last time I dropped in, but Eleanor was not able to carry a conversation, and Murray was a bit unsteady on his feet. We had all changed (as one does), but when you feel at home with people, there seems to be no lapse of time. It was as if I’d just seen them the day before. We laughed and hugged and made our way to the small sitting room where Murray keeps a fire lit in the wood stove. A young woman, who comes to give them a hand each day, arrived with tea and cookies and we sat by the fire as we always do, enjoying the warmth and the companionship. Murray and Eleanor are family to me.
It took awhile to catch up. We tend to interrupt each other and then forget the topic! After filling in the blanks about family and friends, we sat and let the moment settle; like butter melting into warm toast. “How many more times” I thought to myself, “will I be able to sit in this room with these dear people?” Conversation was sometimes difficult, as Eleanor chatted about things unrelated to what we were saying. Murry told me she lived in a world of her own. He said he kept himself sharp by reading, writing, meeting with academic friends, and counting backwards from 100 by sevens. I told him I couldn’t do it. By fives, maybe! He said he missed his colleagues at McMaster University and all the great times they had. He missed the challenge of his work, and the business of his days. He missed thinking, and planning, and doing meaningful things. I could feel his sadness. I’m beginning to understand these things, now. I’m beginning to see the world quite differently.
Until I was perhaps 65, I thought I’d always be the person I’d grown into; the person I recognized in the mirror, the person who thought the way I thought and did the things I did. Now, I’m 72 and I am different. I’m old. My body is old. I find myself doing “old” things. Murray and Eleanor are older. We look at each other with a new and profound understanding. Saying goodbye comes with an extra hug. Saying “take care” means just that. Saying “I’ll see you again” is a fervent hope. We must meet again soon.
I’ve always been practical, and somewhat cynical, when it comes to life and death. But, the older I get, the more I believe that there’s more to this existence than meets the eye. As I hugged Murray and Eleanor one last time, I felt joy and anticipation. I was thinking: “There’s more to come. There’s a reason we met this time around. Now what?” It’s a profound question: “Now what?”
Growing old gives us time to rustle through our accumulated knowledge and experience and think: “Now that I’ve done all that…what does happen next?” If I’m careful. If I’m lucky, I might have 20 more years before I find out! Meanwhile, I have images fresh in my mind of friends who gave me confidence and support when I needed it most, and a personal goal that led to an unexpected career.
I spent the following two days in Victoria with another friend — about whom I’ll tell you soon.