The Wisdom of Old Ted
--by jimpa, posted Jan 23, 2009
I placed Ted's ashes in the ocean and watched as they made a rainbow before dissolving into the sea. In my hand was an envelope with my name on it. I reflected on my friendship with Old Ted, over the past two years prior to his death.
It was a sunny mid-day in Tucson. I had been attending a teaching and we were on lunch break. I was the first to arrive at the Furrs restaurant. I was getting out of my car when I saw him. An elderly man in his eighties, thin, tall, and walked with the gait of someone who knew how to put many miles behind them in a day. He came up to me and said, "I'm hungry can you feed me?" "Of course." I said. He looked me over, I was dressed in my red and yellow monks robes. "What are you?" he asked quite matter of factly. "A Buddhist monk." I said. He took a long look at me, smiled and said, "Now that's not something you see everyday." I said, "I guess not." As we walked into the restaurant I invited him to join me and my friends for lunch. He gave me a wary look and declined. I bought him the best meal they serve and wished him well. "Thank you," he said and went to the serving line.
My friends showed up and we went about getting our own lunches. About half way through the meal, I excused myself and went to check on my guest. he sat there like a King, fully sated and content. I asked him, "did you get everything you wanted, did you get enough?" "Yes" he replied, taking on that wary look again. "Your welcome to join us if you would like," I told him. He said "No thanks." "Well then see you around" I said and started to leave. "Wait a minute, your not going to preach to me?" "No sir, what could I possibly preach to you?" "OK then, I'll see you around," he said. "By the way my names Ted." I shook his hand and told him my name was Jimpa.
Several weeks went by before I saw him again. I sometimes take homeless people to lunch and I was down at the river where many of them live. "I'm hungry can you feed me?" It was to become a sweet refrain from a dear friend. We became fast friends and I would listen to him for hours sometimes into the night at his camp. The panorama of his life danced before me as he told stories of when he had been a merchant marine during WWII, how for four years he sailed the ocean, ships around him suddenly exploding and disappearing beneath the waves, how by some good fortune he had been spared. How he had decided to become a Hobo and ride the rails, never again would the government put him in harms way. A thousand stories of the places he had traveled, the women he had loved, and the friends he had made along the way.
He was old and sometimes seemed a bit feeble. I could not talk him into getting social services. He told me straight out, "No, I'm free and that's the way it's gonna stay." The best I could do was rent him a motel room once in a while. When it was cold out sometimes he would call me and ask me to buy him a motel. I would joke with him and ask him if I looked like a Rockefeller or a Hilton. I always got him a room. Once he asked me, "you know what's the best about a motel room?" "No," I said. "The sheets so clean and crisp," he said."
We had never spoke much of religion but in January he asked me what I thought the meaning of life was. I told him I thought it was to have fun. He smiled at me and nodded his head.
Summer came and I was working in Yuma. The Tucson Police Department called me and asked if I knew a Theodore Cunningham. I told the officer I didn't think so. Then he told me they had found an old man dead in a desert camp and my name and number was on a piece of paper in his pocket. Suddenly I knew who it was, Old Ted. They asked me to come and identify the body.
The next day at the morgue, I identified Old Ted. They wanted to know about relatives and such. I didn't have a clue. I asked what would happen to him and they told if no one claimed the body they would give him a paupers funeral. I just couldn't imagine that settling well with Old Ted. He had mentioned wanting to be cremated and his ashes put in the ocean. I asked if they would cremate him they said no. So I asked if I could claim the body they said yes. On the way out the coroner gave me an envelope with my name on it. "We found this in his pocket."
After all the arrangements were complete, Old Ted and I hopped a train out of Tucson and made our way to the ocean. Standing there watching the sunset and wishing Old Ted well, I pulled out the envelope with my name on it. I looked at it for a while and slowly opened it. This is his eulogy and I hope you find the wisdom in it.
Hello Jimpa, I had fun. Love Ted
What you gave him was worth more than a million dollars.