Our two golden retrievers pulled towards Mr. Johnson’s open garage door, a sure sign of his presence. Our entry into the garage prompted the elderly Mr. Johnson to look up. A man known to the neighborhood pups for his bottomless bag of bacon treats, Mr. Johnson gave a silent nod.
He shuffled painfully towards us, back unnaturally stooped, skin ashen gray, movements painfully slow. Ordinarily, his posture was consistent with the Marine Corps flag that flew at the end of the driveway; something was seriously wrong.
A different man stood before me, one not firmly in this life. Still, he exuded emblematic positivity. Mr. Johnson led an active life, crabbing, fishing, and gardening well into his 80s, carrying himself with the self-confident kindness of eclectic life experience.
Reaching into a familiar bag, he pulled out a handful of treats, methodically dispensing them to the two retrievers until the bag was empty. I had never witnessed Mr. Johnson run out of dog treats. I realized with empathy that this would be the last time I saw Mr. Johnson, still knowing virtually nothing about the man. At a loss for words, I turned to leave.
Feeling that this last interaction was missing something integral, I glanced back from the road, finally making eye contact. Mr. Johnson held my gaze rock steady, and for a fleeting moment, I saw a strapping young man in uniform, and I understood his pervasive smile. Acting on impulse, I snapped to attention and rendered as clean a salute as Parkinson’s would allow.
Mr. Johnson looked surprised, and maybe a little relieved. I broke eye contact, saying a silent goodbye.
There are no strangers at death’s door, only friends who have never met, captivating a mutuality of fellowship, awaiting resolution to life’s grandest question in the pale shadow of shared humanity.