A couple of weeks ago, I was cruising around Scandinavia on the Italian ship MSC Poesia when I met a brilliant and charming Swiss man, a tablemate at dinner named Egon who had booked passage on the ship for a year.
Our connection was instant. In fact, on his daily blog he wrote this:
"July 24, Copenhagen: ... I played two Scrabble games with Lea (which I won) and we had long conversations and befriended each other. Were she not married, I certainly would allow myself to fall in love with her."
In fact, when my boyfriend Bill left our dinner table for a few minutes one evening, Egon turned to me with a mischievous smile and whispered, "If Bill doesn't come back, will you marry me?"
Does that sound absurd? Well, I just might have fallen for Egon if I weren't already in love and recently married, and if miles and years hadn't separated us. Many miles and years.
You see, Egon is 94-years-old. But his appeal is ageless, like a fine Burgundy or a Bach cantata or a vintage Steinway.
Women and men gravitate toward his wry commentary and his clever double entendres. He tells compelling stories, but he also asks insightful questions. A rare combo. And he has the guts to live a dream.
Egon spent most of his life in Switzerland and British Columbia, although he was born in Germany. The trauma of World War II makes it hard for him to talk about that time of terrible personal loss, but he talks of most anything else with honesty and vulnerability and insight.
Egon was a successful importer in Canada, and is a gifted pianist and organist; he retired early to play music around the world. Last year he sold his house and goods, and he now lives in a stateroom on the Poesia, cruising his life away. He says that the only assisted living he is ready for is on a ship.
He married three times, the last marriage lasting more than 40 years until his wife died six years ago, at 87. He had his share of flings and close friendships, and a woman friend from Switzerland is soon joining him for a week onboard.
He swims 20 laps a day in the ship's pool, listens to his favorite pianist, Angela, every night in the lounge, and finishes crossword puzzles before bed. He keeps a scooter in his inside cabin and scoots to internet cafes in port, where he blogs daily.
On days at sea Egon plays remarkable piano in the reception area of the ship, just for the enjoyment. He knows 1500 songs by ear, and enjoys playing special requests.
And yes, over several Scrabble games he demolished me, consistently racking up around 400 points (his highest one-word total in our games was 57), even though English is not his first language.
Through years of traveling I've met other like-minded people. We laugh at each other's jokes and toss around ironic looks, despite never meeting before and never meeting again. As Egon puts it, we're "birds of a feather with lots of feathers missing." (Did I mention he's a wit?)
Age has little to do with it: there are old souls and young-at-heart souls of varied years.
And that's often how it goes when you're traveling: instant connections that transcend age or nationality or status. This past week on the Poesia, 44 countries were represented among 2500 passengers, and that's not counting the crew. Only a couple dozen of us were Americans. And of these thousands of people, I'm sure that at least a few could also have been a special connection.
Egon says that it's hard to reach an advanced age when you're aware and alert and frisky. You still want more. You're not ready to leave. You feel like you always did, and are shocked when you look in a mirror or state your years.
We talked about an after-life and he remains hopeful, but with a twinkle says that meanwhile he would love some female company, but she'd better be good at Scrabble, and like to laugh.
Bill and I hope to meet Egon again at the end of his year-long cruise when the ship docks at New York harbor this September. He'd especially like to eat a good corned-beef sandwich.
He's not sure what he'll be doing after this cruise, but says with a smile that at his age he'll probably book in shorter segments from now on. Maybe hop a freighter or take a three-month cruise around the world this winter. But who knows?
"July 30, Kiel, Germany: Losing my by now good friends Lea and Bill, the others from our table tomorrow at Copenhagen. This has been one of those 'special' groups of tablemates: interesting, amusing, intriguing and inspiring. Sorry our meeting was so short lived, but I know we'll stay in touch by email and I fully expect to see Lea and Bill again, either in New York or Miami."
I sure hope so. Here's to my new-old soulmate, Egon -- and to good health and good seas and many Scrabble games to come, for us all.