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Bonds of friendship grow stronger with age

Not so long ago, an unfortunate incident with a rebellious ladder resulted in my breaking both of my wrists. My two very best friends traveled hundreds of miles to visit with me and offer what comfort they could. We have been fast friends for two decades, and the two of them were childhood friends who have a friendship of more than four decades. At the time, I remember relishing their gesture of kindness and friendship and being grateful for my good fortune.

More recently, I have gained a whole new perspective on friendship. Meet Walter, age 95, who, like so many of his contemporaries, has dementia. He is able to walk and talk, but is not fully facile in either. He needs direction to navigate, and in his conversation you hear the confusion that besets so many like him. I see so many like him in the memory care facility where my mother-in-law lives, some veritable ghosts.

But I do not know Walter from the home. I know him from my bowling league, where he joins us for three games of bowling each and every week. His is a story of true friendship, of inspiration and aspiration. Every Wednesday night, for 33 weeks a year, Walter captains Walt's Boys, a team of, shall we say, extremely experienced bowlers.

A teammate drives Walter to the lanes, where he is delivered into the capable hands of the rest of the team. For the next few hours, a performance of patience, kindness and love takes place on the lanes of Tonawanda Bowl. Walter's teammates take turns apprising him of when it's his turn to bowl, helping him find his ball and his mark, and making sure he knows when it's still his turn if he doesn't bowl a strike. And at 95, he still bowls plenty of strikes.

They even help lead him to the restroom, knowing he would not find it on his own. Over the years, Walter's condition has advanced, and he has become more and more disoriented. Many is the night that he will walk from the pit to his chair to put his coat on, ready to leave for the night, despite the fact there are still many frames, and games, to go.

Each time, his teammates gently walk him back to the lanes and persuade him to continue with the game. Walter and his teammates have been bowling in our league for more than a generation, and I have witnessed this show of friendship in the five years I have been in the league.

In our final week of the 2011-2012 season, our team played against Walt's Boys, and I watched this incredible display of lifelong friendship play out once again. Over the brief summer respite between bowling seasons, I will keep a good thought for the coming year, hoping the team returns hale and hearty. And despite the inevitable passage of time, of one thing I am certain: This friendship will long endure the mere bonds of any mortal coil.

I would do anything for my best friends, and they for me. And yet I wonder if, being only middle-aged compared to Walter, we will still be there for one another, as attentive to the needs of those who need help the most, the way Walt's Boys are there for him.

To Bert, Chuck and Pat, I both admire and envy you. And to Walter, you are truly blessed to have such good friends. I hope I live as long as you and bowl as well as you, and throughout it all, have friends by my side like you.