At 84 Years Old, He Just Wanted to Talk

Here's one more example of how time can be the greatest gift to others, during this holiday season and always

I had just gotten home, my arms full of packages, when the phone rang. The caller ID spelled out a man’s name I didn’t quite recognize — yet it seemed familiar somehow, too.

The voice on the other end identified himself as someone who had corresponded with me some 10 or more years ago — and before he said any more, I remembered this man, Charles.

“About the MG, right?” I said.

“Yes,” came the enthusiastic answer.

Charles (no last name) had first written to me after he read a story of mine about my car, a replica of a 1952 MG-TD, the preposterously British charmer with running boards and glassine curtains, and how that little red roadster was one of the joys of my life.

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He’d owned three MGs through the years — a TC, a TD, and an MGA — and felt a kinship. We’d had a number of emails — he’d attached pictures of his cars, and I remembered one of his family happily piled into the MGA, Charles beaming behind the wheel. But that was a long time ago.

“I tried to send you a Christmas card,” Charles said now, “but my email bounced back.”

“Charles,” I asked, “do you get lonely?”

I explained I no longer had that account and wondered why, all of a sudden, this man wanted to be in touch again.

We talked cars for a bit, and tossed around the pros and cons of right-hand drive. Then he asked me for my current email address. I gave it to him, and wished him a Merry Christmas and tried to ease him into hanging up.

But Charles didn’t want to hang up. After I tried a second time, I realized he just needed to talk with someone.

He was 84 years old now, he said, a resident of a small town in Nevada. His wife died 12 years ago, and his daughter lives in California, where he would be going for Christmas.

“Charles,” I asked, “do you get lonely?”

“Oh, gosh, yes,” he answered. “I’m lonely almost all the time.”

He tried to have a girlfriend after his wife died, he explained, but Alzheimer’s took her in her early 70s. I encouraged him to try again. He sighed. “It’s hard,” he said.

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Loneliness is a killer, so I quit what I was doing to be completely present in our conversation. I’m glad I did. I had been through some tough stuff lately myself, with more ahead, and my friends had gathered around me like angels to lift me up.

Charles needed a lift on this day, too — and all it took was for someone to listen.

One day, I’ll be that lonely caller to someone I corresponded with 10 years ago, and I’ll hope that person doesn’t hang up on me.

As one of my Facebook friends has reminded me, the greatest gift is time spent with someone who needs it.

As we look ahead to Christmas this year, let’s try to remember the folks who have no one else close by. It doesn’t take much to make a difference. God bless.

This article was originally published in LifeZette last year, and has been updated. Alanna Nash, an award-winning journalist based in Louisville, Kentucky, is the author of seven books, including four on Elvis Presley.