Sundays with Max

Saturday, September 7, 2013

You never know when you’re going to meet someone that will change your life.  Six years ago I met a man -- a wonderful, wise, and kind person who affected my life in a very special way.

My husband and I had just moved into our new house with our seven-month-old baby boy.  I was working as a lawyer for a non-profit association and trying to take care of a new baby, so life was hectic to say the least.  It felt like I was always rushing from one thing to the next, trying to make everything work.  And I thought I was almost pulling it off.  Then I found out that I was pregnant with my second child.  My son was only nine months old when I got pregnant.  It was so quick that some people at work were confused about why I was “still” pregnant.  They would ask “didn’t you just have a baby?”  Yes, I would tell them, and I am pregnant again.  It wasn’t an easy pregnancy and work was getting busier and busier.  I felt squeezed from all directions as I tried to maintain some semblance of a happy existence for my family.

It was about this time that we started having our Sunday picnics with Max, our neighbor’s father.  Bette, our wonderful neighbor, would pick him up from his retirement community every Sunday around lunch time and bring him back to her place to spend the day.  Max would sit outside in the backyard on a simple folding chair and enjoy the trees, birds and fresh air.  He would read the paper or a book and talk to Bette about life’s events from that week. 

Since our backyards were open to each other, we would see him and Bette sitting peacefully together enjoying the sunshine.  One Sunday, shortly after we noticed this ritual, we asked if we could join them.  They graciously welcomed us into their Sunday afternoon family get-together.   We grabbed a blanket, our baby boy, lots of tasty picnic food and went out to join them on the grass. 

We spent that afternoon laughing and sharing stories about our lives.  Being with them felt like home.  From that day forward, every time we saw Bette’s car coming home on Sunday afternoons, we would grab a blanket, some food and join them for a lazy Sunday picnic.  This became our favorite Sunday activity. 

It was during those afternoons that we would share things about our lives, the decisions we made or didn’t make, the doubts we had, the challenges we faced, and the joys that we experienced. 

He would tell us stories about his fascinating life and we would gobble them up with glee.  He told us about his time in the Navy during World War II and the ups and downs of his long career in the textile industry.  He talked about his love of woodworking and gardening.  He smiled as he watched the birds flying back and forth from the trees to the bird houses that Bette had put up in her small but perfectly manicured garden oasis.  

He saw us through my difficult pregnancy and watched every week as my two baby boys started talking, walking and experiencing the world around them.  Their first steps were on the grass around his feet, their first words were celebrated during an afternoon in the sun, and their giggles and tears filled the air while we shared a meal.

For six years, I saw him almost every week and shared my life with him.  I asked him advice about everything from raising a family to work challenges.  When I struggled with the decision to leave my job and stay home with my children, his words were the ones that resonated with me the most.  He was wise, and kind with his advice.

Max died a short time ago.  The news of his death filled me with a surprisingly deep sorrow.  I broke into tears often in the days that followed as I realized that he meant more to me than just a Sunday afternoon companion.  He had filled a void in my life that I didn’t know existed.  He was the grandfather that had I lost many years ago. 

What hurt the most about his passing was that I wasn’t able to tell him how much he had meant to me or thank him for sharing his life’s wisdom with me.  I will miss him very much but I’m so grateful that he came into my life in such a surprising and meaningful way. 

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