The Old Man and the Boy
“The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him”
Ernest Hemmingway, “The Old Man and the Sea”
I re-read Hemmingway’s, “The Old Man and the Sea” and see it now with new eyes. This is more than a story of an old man’s quest to catch the monster fist that had eluded him for many seasons. It is also the story of a relationship between the old man and a young boy.
It is hardly surprising that I should tune in to this part of the story. For the past nearly two years, this old guy has taken in a teenage boy as his foster son.
When I read in the book “The boy took an old army blanket off the bed and spread it over the old man’s shoulders…. You must keep warm old man.” I think of my boy’s solicitude towards me never allowing me to take out the garbage, being patient with me in my struggles to text with my cell and always adjusting the volume on the TV so I can hear it.
When the old man dreamed about the cats playing on the beach in the dusk, he said “I loved those cats as I love the boy,” I find myself acknowledging that I too love my boy as though he were my own son.
I am constantly surprised that a teenaged boy and an old guy sixty years his senior have formed a bond of friendship. Maybe we connect because we recognize in one another the impermanence of our respective stages of life.
I’m very aware that he is only a boy for a short time. Life has taught me that, all too soon, he will be a man and will put aside the things of his boyhood. That makes him precious to me and allows me to delight in his innocence and spontaneity. His very youth and energy makes me smile.
The boy, in his turn, sees in this old man a different kind of impermanence. It is, after all, the nature of old age to pass on to another life, to a different form of existence. A youth understands that and accepts it. At some spiritual level he understands that the old man is already in touch with his coming death.
There is a kind of symphony in their relationship. The old man revels in the wonder of a boy’s youthfulness. He is drawn to it and loves the boy. And the boy is drawn towards the mystery of life, played out before him in the life of the old man. He loves the old man’s stories because he gets from them the sweet sadness and the comedy of a life he is yet to experience.
Don’t think for a moment that the relationship between this kid and this old guy is the stuff of dreams. Heck no. Realities like homework, radically different tastes in music, contrary views on things like tattoos, staying out late at night, and age appropriate movies challenge us almost daily. At times we both question God’s wisdom in letting this unlikely match happen. But we have never questioned God’s sense of humor. We are having a hoot.