Is it wrong to say that age has improved someone? I know that I am a stronger, kinder, and more compassionate person than I was in my youth—and, meeting Elphinstone for the first time in years, found him to be… it’s hard to say. Himself, of course. But different.
His smile, for example. It’s softer and at the same time more real. Not the wicked smirk he used to use when he and I would laugh about some Ministry colleague’s mistake.
He is also less quick to interrupt—which he used to do constantly—and I could feel him, as he looked at me from across the table, giving me the full benefit of his attention. Listening. Perhaps seeing me for the first time.
I only say that because it feels like I am seeing Elphinstone for the first time. We’re peers now. When I was younger I thought we were peers because we were both adults—but he was also my supervisor, which in retrospect made it an imbalanced relationship. I used to look at him and see a person I needed to please. Now I look at him and see a man I want to know.
The war has changed him, as it has changed us all. His hair is white to my grey, and the two of us made the usual jokes about getting older, aches and pains, as we sipped our tea and tried to decide whether we would talk about anything more serious. Which, in time, we did.
It is strange to tell someone your real aches and pains, especially when you hadn’t planned on it. I spoke about the Longbottoms, the sadness of going to visit them at St. Mungo’s and not being sure if they knew I was there. I think Alice squeezed my hand, but Frank’s mother, who is always present, said it didn’t mean anything. “Alice squeezes everybody’s hand.” She wouldn’t let me see the baby.
Elphinstone has also lost friends. We all have, and yet when we find each other and talk about our experiences it is like a discovery: You feel the same way I do. I did not realize anyone else could. I loved them so much.
He has asked if he can see me again. I had not thought I would say yes, but now I think I will.