Nearly ten years ago, I decided to write a book about something that interested me--the World War Two bombers and the men who flew them. I didn't have much of an idea of where to go with the book, and made several false starts before hitting on a way that felt right to me. As I worked, I met one WWII vet after another, and most generously and trustingly opened up to me, invited me into their homes, let me spend the night on a spare bed, showed me their old photos, and most important, shared their lives with me. Five years of hard travel and even harder writing and the book was done.
And the amazing thing is--if the book had never sold a single copy, it was all worth it, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
I set out to write a book. I ended up making friends for life. I cherish each one of these men more than any material possession that the earth could give me.
Which is why the past few years have been hard. When all your best friends are in their eighties, and many are pushing ninety, you spend a lot of time saying goodbye.
I spend time each week talking to my best friend, who happens to be 91. He has dementia and possibly Alzheimers. Our conversations are filled with laughter, reflections on the pain of aging, and stories of the past. My friend flew two tours of duty over Europe, first as a B-17 bombardier (he saw his pilot die and nearly died himself on the same mission), and then as a bombardier on A-26 Intruders and B-26 Marauders.
Over a year ago, I helped him put together his memoirs. They are poignant, often funny, and at times very sad. When I read it, I can hear him remembering it all over again. He does this less each week.
In June, I'm going to go see him where he lives in the deep south. It will be a joyous meeting. We met once before, some years ago, in New Jersey, for only a few brief minutes. This time, we'll take our time.
I set out to write a book. Instead, I learned what's important in life.
How lucky is that?