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Benefits of Exercise: Paul & Roy

By Craig R. Waters

© Home_Base - Fotolia.comDuring a recent weekend visit to Brattleboro, Vermont, I happened to meet two men. One, whom I’ll call Paul, is 73 or 74 years of age. He’d once worked in the publishing business in New York City, had been married, divorced, retired at a relatively young age, eventually lost touch with his two daughters—or, rather, they lost touch with him—and, for the past two years, has been waging a battle with bone cancer.

He’s done so patiently, persistently, without complaint, his intelligence, dignity, and grace undiminished by the disease.

He’d prevailed in some skirmishes, lost ground in others, but now all of the signs, the test results, the medical evaluations, and, even, the crystal ball of hope—now they all acknowledged that he was playing the end game.

The other man, whom I’m call Roy, is 75 or 76, had once worked in a large department store in New Jersey, was a painter with a discerning eye and an original, engaging style, and volunteered his services, each day, in a daycare center for seniors. He’d known and been Paul’s friend for years, and now, during this fragile, tremulous time, had become his caregiver.

Each day, he came to Paul’s home on a hilltop overlooking downturn Brattleboro, and, as he put it, “You do what you need to do.”

Dressing, bathing, meal preparation, medications, doctor’s visits, housecleaning, conversation, caring for the dog and cat, entertaining Paul’s visitors—it is a single, seamless, demanding, and unrelenting responsibility, but one that Roy seems content, perfectly comfortable, with. He manages the care-giving as capably as Paul manages the disease.

During that visit, Paul sat in his favorite, straight-back chair in his home’s small living room, surrounded by a mismatched life’s worth collection of furniture, and books, and small objets d’art. He wore a dark, well-worn robe. His hair was disheveled, his face chiseled thin, and his voice was soft and tentative, but his intelligence, wit, and humanity—they were fully intact.

Roy sat nearby, a taller, more concrete presence, solid through the shoulders, with a thatch of white hair, and soft, but serious features. He wore a coarse knit sweater, jeans, and heavy boots. As Paul met with his visitors, Roy listened, joined in the conversation, offered a plate of cookies to the guests, and dealt with intrusions by the dog and cat.

There was animated conversation, recollected memories, laughter, and smiles. It was a good time, with good people.

"The Gym" / © Julija Sapic - Fotolia.comAt one point, sensitive to the heavy physical and emotional burden that Roy shouldered each and every day, I asked him, in passing, “How do you do it?”

There was an immediate change in his mood and face. He smiled, shook his head slightly, and, for the first time, looked at me directly. “The gym,” he said, without thinking about the question for more than an instant. “The gym. Every morning, before I do anything, I go down to the gym for an hour. It’s not a big place, but it’s got a small pool and all of the strength and cardio equipment I need.” The smile lingered. “That’s it—the gym!” he said.

Paul’s early-morning routine makes it possible for him to persevere, to keep on doing what needs to be done, despite overwhelming demands. It, in turn, allows Roy to persevere despite his personal, interminable ordeal. During that visit, it also helped turn the time that we spent together into a very good evening.

- Craig R. Waters is the editor-in-chief of CBI and can be reached at

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