Traveling back in time or forward to the future

By Gary Lloyd

The man looked out over a two-lane highway from four wheels, ready to roll.

I saw him on New Year’s Day 2022, a year ago now, and although I was passing by at 35 mph, I clearly saw his facial expression – a distant, northward gaze, maybe going somewhere in his mind, probably because his wheels were confined to the boundaries of a parking lot. The man was not idling behind the wheel of a Mustang or rumbling atop a Harley-Davidson, but resting on the cushioned seat of a rolling walker.

He just sat there on the edge of the parking lot, of some distant memory or long-postponed trip, and stared.

He was maybe twenty yards from the front doors of the assisted living facility, which I assumed to be his home. He was alone. Had his family visited and just left? Were they inside? Was someone coming to pick him up to go out to dinner? Was anyone coming at all? I wish I knew.

I’ve spent a decent amount of time in a couple assisted living facilities, and I know they are polarizing places for folks, but I’m sort of indifferent. The difficulties of that sort of living – the help required, the loss of complete independence, the confusion – are overcome in my mind by memories of the Hand-in-Paw nonprofit bringing therapy dogs inside for residents to pet, of watching birds flutter in a massive acrylic cage, of staff and residents applauding a man with severe dementia remembering how to play “It Had To Be You” on the piano.

Did I like having to see a grandmother there, and her brother, my great uncle, living on the second floor? Of course not. I don’t think anyone enjoys seeing a relative live somewhere other than where you visited as a kid, where you ate ham, turkey, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and fudge every Christmas Eve.

I mentioned that I saw this man sitting on his walker on New Year’s Day last year, and that’s true. Perhaps he was staring off to somewhere physical, like Times Square in New York City, Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or even the Jack’s restaurant a few miles down the highway.

The meaning of New Year’s Day is not lost on me, so maybe the man was finalizing his New Year’s resolutions for 2022. Maybe he was simply escaping a dining room full of buttered rolls because he swore off carbs. Maybe he was not going somewhere physical, but somewhere spiritual, praying about something, or someone. I wrote this column not long after seeing him sitting in the parking lot that day, and I suppose I saved these words for a year later because timeliness and anniversaries seem important.

Wherever that man was thinking of traveling to, in a vehicle down the highway or in his mind back in time, I hope he had a good trip. Whatever his New Year’s resolution may have been, I hope he followed through on it, and that he follows through this year, too.

Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.

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