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Tell me, what’s going on?

I have a 97 year old friend. He claims to be 98, but I’ve seen his driver’s license and his birth year is 1923. I never correct him, because when you get to be that old, what difference does a year make?

My friend cannot hear so I have to lean into him and speak very exaggeratedly for I imagine he is reading my lips instead of actually hearing my voice. He’s very frail and has trouble keeping his balance so he doesn’t drive anymore although he would like to.

He sleeps a good bit of the time, but when I am with him, he never fails to ask, “What’s going on out there?” Imagine with me just how to answer that question. Sometimes, I want to say, “Nothing,” but I decided to honor this man by telling him the truth.

My friend was born in Baltimore and grew up in a house with dirt floors. He lived through the Great Depression and attended grade school without the glasses that he needed. Plus, he says he never had a pencil and, when a test was given, he’d go to the pencil sharpener and find a piece of lead to write with.

Roy spent a few years when he was in his twenties in the South Pacific. He was a Navy Seabee and was stationed on an island by the name of Bougainville. He claims to have the pictures of hundreds of his mates and their graves. I’ve never seen the pictures, but I believe him.

As I sit and listen to the stories of this 97 year old man and they are told over and over, he gets around to asking that question, “Lynn, tell me what’s going on in my country?”

A few months ago, I told him that there was a virus going around and the entire country had been shut down. I told him that there was no eating out, no churches open, and most people were confined to their homes. Also, everyone was wearing masks and gloves to reduce the spread of the deadly virus.

His memory, weak as it is, seemed to remember that he had lost two brothers in the Flu Pandemic of 1918-19. Roy said, “I was born on the tail end of that epidemic and it was told to my daddy that I would probably not make it.”

Then I said encouragingly, “But you did and you’re still going at 97.”

For the next two months, he would ask when the shutdown would be over. “When are we going to get back to normal?” I would always try to be positive and say, “Soon.”

This man who has lived to be almost a hundred years old, growing up on dirt floors, remembering the poverty of the 1930’s, never driving a vehicle until World War II, and making something of himself would say, “I’m scared.”

Just this past Sunday, I went by to see him and he asked, “Tell me, what’s going on? Are we back to normal yet? Is the virus gone?”

He has chosen to have no television. He can’t hear and can’t operate a remote. When asked about what’s going on, I might should have told him, “Not much.” I decided to tell him the truth. After all, he’d fought for and loves this nation.

“Your nation is on fire,” I said. He asked, what do you mean?

I told him all about Minneapolis, about the unnecessary killing of the black man by the cop. I told him that the rioting had spread throughout the nation and that even our nation’s capital had been attacked.

Again, a sad-eyed Roy said, “I’m scared.” I told him he should be and, “So am I.”