Every love story begins somewhere. Mine began ten years ago in the den of a widowed WWII veteran named Bob Albright.
As a journalist, I have the privilege of listening to and speaking with fascinating people. I’ve interviewed thousands of subjects for human interest stories, but none compare to my experience with Bob. I wanted to adopt him as my surrogate grandfather the moment I met him.
The first thing Bob said to me was, “When you get to be my age, everyone thinks you’re senile, so I say mess with people!” Bob was a few months away from his 90th birthday when I first sat down to record his life story for a feature. He had me at, “Mess with people!” He also informed me that women found him irresistible.
Bob was drafted by the US Army in 1943. After Bootcamp at Camp Crowder, located in Missouri, Bob received his technical training at Paramount Studios in New York City to become a professional photographer with the US Army Signal Corps. This designation would imply that he was a spy. Bob was assigned to a five-man team, who were attached to a different platoon nearly every day. Bob served in the Pacific Theater as a part of Operation Iceberg, which came ashore on Okinawa, Japan, April 1st, 1945.
After earning two bronze stars, Bob returned to his hometown of Indianapolis. He became the first professional medical photographer Eli Lilly + Co ever hired, becoming a pioneer in medical photography. The proof (honors, awards, and accolades) covered the walls of his den.
Bob had macular degeneration, an ironic twist of fate for someone who spent an extensive career behind a lens. He adapted to his visual impairment with grace and humility. Bob’s kind disposition caught me off guard, for most aged men I’d encountered were curmudgeons. I observed something inherently special about Bob. He embodied a peaceful Zen-like nature which reminded me of my childhood hero, Mr. Fred Rogers.
I returned to Bob’s home for a second visit, which was unnecessary, but I felt compelled to visit him again under the guise of reading him my rough draft of his war and career adventures. I could never have imagined what awaited me on that fateful day.
My return visit to Bob’s house was striking in contrast to the prior week. This time he was quiet and somber. I thought perhaps he wasn’t feeling well. We sat in reverent silence in his den for quite some time before he blurted out, “I missed out on marrying the love of my life. I don’t know if she’s dead or alive, but I need to find her and ask for forgiveness.”
After a very pregnant pause, I asked him, “What did you do?”
“I never asked her to marry me.”
[enter heavy sigh here and grab some tissue]
When I met Bob, I was racing towards the emergency exit of a loveless marriage to a narcissist. Bob serendipitously bestowed upon me an amazing gift, by sharing his one regret in life, he sent me on a journey to find his long, lost love, a woman named Joy. Bob had not spoken of Joy in 67 years. The only clues I had to work with were her age, her maiden name, and where she had attended high school.
#lifehack: When a 90 year old man asks you to find Joy, YOU DO IT!
The Vegas odds of finding an 85-year-old woman without knowing her married name, is alive, healthy, widowed, and accessible, was like a gazillion to 1. No one would have placed that bet. I should have bought a lottery ticket the day I found Joy because she was alive, healthy, living independently within close proximity to Bob, still driving, and was a widow.
Miracles do happen, as I’ve witnessed many, but this one might qualify me for canonization if I was in the running for Sainthood, and, of course, if I was Catholic. Watching Bob’s face light up like a Christmas tree when I told him I’d found Joy is a memory which is etched in my brain. Helping to facilitate this legitimate miracle is something that I will forever be grateful for.
For the first few years after I met Bob, my personal circumstances could not have been more divergent from what I witnessed transpiring between Bob and Joy. As I struggled in survival mode and looked forward to, and achieved an ugly divorce, Bob and Joy displayed the best example of unconditional love and forgiveness. These nonagenarians could not have been more kind, loving, and tender with one another. They saw each other as they were, decades prior.
I am grateful for every afternoon that I spent with them, absorbing their stories and life lessons. Watching these two lovebirds interact with one another was a miracle in and of itself.
Being sent on this quest to find Joy resulted in opening my heart and mind to what was possible in life. One of many valuable lessons I learned through observation is that it’s never too late for love.
My fateful interview with Bob happened ten years ago. A decade later, I am happy to report that I found joy in my own life.
My personal journey towards joy was an arduous ordeal of healing from PTSD obtained from narcissistic emotional abuse. Some of the most gorgeous, wondrous, and amazing destinations are the most challenging to reach. I credit the example that Bob and Joy represented in my life, which helped fuel my determination to create a life that I deserve.
People enter our lives at various times to teach us. The lessons persist until the education is obtained. The key to success with this is to pay attention. The day that I met Bob, I realized that he was an angel in my life — one sent to help guide me through a turbulent time. Bob helped me stay focused on the end game. Not only did I find his Joy, I was able to discover my own. Mission: accomplished.