Friday, November 12, 2010

The Keeper of the Bowls

Yesterday evening, I walked alongside David towards St. Oswald's Church Hall for our third Thursday night of the bowls. It's no exaggeration to admit that I've come to love the soft, slow pace of the game, the smiles delivered in pure authenticity from a league of grandfathers towards the lone, wet-behond-the-ears American new to the game.

One man, particularly, stood out to me last night. His name is Brian, and we sat next to one another during the tea break. While we muched on biscuits (cookies!) and sipped tea, I peppered Brian with questions about his life, and each of his responses only gave way to more questions on my end.

Brian is 90 years old. He is the Keeper of the Bowls. He rents the hall; he keeps the books (it costs £2 per person per night to attend); he ensures proper storing of the mats and other such essentials.

I shared with Brian the story of why Jennifer and I and Tyler are here in York, England rather than continuing life near Boston, trying to get a mortgage and a fence as most families our age are doing. As I spoke about Jennifer and Tyler, I watched Brian's eyes fill with soemthing like joy.


So Iasked him, "How many children do you have?" I figured it was an approproate question, since I read his eyes as saying, I love my wife, I love my kids as I spoke about my own family.

But I was wrong.

Brian: "I never married."

Me: "Did you ever come close?"

Brian looked up at me and now the joy tipped into that sorrowful kind of acceptance. I saw my mistake. The happiness that danced, previously, in his eyes was happiness for what I am able to enjoy now, not what he had or has.

Brian shared with that he had proposed once, but that it didn't work it. He had almost proposed to a second woman years later, but never got down on his knee and asked. He spent his life working as a bookkeeper, and he said his moments of greatest happiness were when he worked in the living rooms and studies of the hoems where his clients lived--doing their books, yes, but also soaking up the playfulness of family that he watched.

Now, the only night of the week that Brian gets out is Thursday--the night of the bowls.

My heart felt drawn to his for some reason, and there was a certain rightness about the man himself--that kind of rightness whereby you instantly know, this is a good person; he has a good heart.

And so, I invited Brian to join Jennifer and I for dinner one evening at our little home on Lesley.

He smiled, but the wistfulness of days long since passed was no longer there.

"Oh, oh, that's so very kind of you, but...well, Thursday is my only night out, you see."

I accepted Brian's declining of my offer, but before we ended tea to return to bowls, I rpmised him that I would continue to invite him each week until he agreed to come.

He smiled, and said that would be fine.