I met Wayne at a Catholic retreat center in Thailand. He wanted to walk with me.
Wayne was 78 years old. An American. “From Texas,” he said. And Wayne was a little bit learning disabled.
He put his arm around my shoulder as easily as one leans against a wall.
We walked on. Slowly. Very slowly. Painfully slowly for those living at a frenetic pace.
But not too slow for Wayne. He chattered away just like we were old friends out for a stroll.
“I’ve seen all your movies,” he kept telling me. I smiled. And Wayne smiled. And we kept walking. And Wayne kept talking and talking and talking.
I wasn’t sure what to say, so we just kept walking – an elderly, tall Texan man with his arm around my shoulder, just like I was his old, movie star friend.
“My cousin Ray-Ray built this.” He said, pointing to the chapel.
Father Ray was a Redemptorist priest and had built a center for the care of the disabled.
“He’s dead now,” said Wayne. “He died in 2003.”
“That’s too bad. I’m sorry about that Wayne.”
“Yeah. It’s too bad. Ray-Ray took care of me. Now it’s just my cat.”
Wayne knew everybody there. Or he might have just thought he did.
“This is my British friend,” he would say to people we passed.
“I’m American, Wayne.” I tried to tell him gently. "And I haven’t been in any movies.”
But Wayne didn’t seem to mind. “This is my British friend,” he kept telling people. “I’ve seen all his movies.”
I pushed beyond the discomfort of walking along slowly, an old Texan man with his arm around me, then holding my hand, telling everyone I was a British movie star.
So for an hour or so I let myself be Kenneth Branagh or Michael Cane or Hugh Grant, visiting his friend Wayne in Thailand, strolling the Redemptorist center hand in hand, and listening to him chatter on about this or that.
Wayne must have missed walking hand in hand with Ray-Ray.
And I discovered that I miss pretending. People my age don’t pretend very often.
And I miss the quiet, platonic, touch of friendship. Guys, at least older white guys, don’t really hold hands or walk with their arms around one another.
And I miss walking slowly.
I thought for a while that I was being kind to Wayne
Pushing past my comfort zone, walking slowly, holding his hand, pretending to be his old buddy Hugh Grant.
But I found that Wayne was being kind to me.
Helping an older white guy get past his issues with touch and slowing down, and with pretending.
It works that way a lot.
People we think we’re helping turn out to be our best teachers.