Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Dear Old People...."

Courtesy M. Horrocks
It was one of those rare times. I was fully present in my own moment rather than being preoccupied by the moments of others. Lucky for me, I was in no hurry. Any other passerby might not have slowed long enough to notice the white haired lady going through the motions of her day. If taking note, you might have choked back a feeling of pedestrian walkway rage while brushing past her on your way to who knows where.

Even tho' both her advancing years and ambling pace suggested the time had come, no trace of stooping shoulders broke her regal carriage. I would soon learn that her conversations mirrored both her pace and bearing.

Courtesy A. Huges
The air was heavy with uncertainty as we gathered around the conference table. Chit-chat flowed in grudging spurts while total strangers with a common goal searched for mutual rhythm. The perfunctory get-to-know-you banter unfolded. She made her presence known in the same deliberate manner with which she walked. Her words were measured and slow; her demeanor was regal and composed.

In another place, she might have been chosen foreman of the jury but not because she was pushy, flashy, or loud. Persistence would have been the winning attribute. Conversations followed her unspoken directive alhto' she seemed unaware that she had become the de facto director of the table.

Some began to shift uncomfortably as they waited for polite openings that would allow other bits of conversation. When those attempts faltered, the assembled began to offer muttered regrets. One by one, they shuffled off to meet the next obligation of the day. I remained waiting – altho' for what I did not know.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Eventually, her stream of consciousness dialog stuttered to a halt. She sat staring out into space lost in a world that only she could see. I waited till her unflinching gaze returned again to me. The shadow of a sag danced around her impeccably straight shoulders. “I if I am am obsolete,” she sighed as a forlorn smile that never reached her eyes flickered and died away. 
The comment surprised us both. I sat groping for the politically correct thing to say. I smiled back. With the same sense of tortured resignation that she had spoken, I replied, “Yes. It happens before we know it. We rush through life trying to get it all done. Then, we wake up one day and realize it is time to step aside and let the younger ones take over. I have wondered who I want to be when I grow up. Now I realize I'm almost out of time.....”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
In other bits of conversation, she had revealed details about a confusing life filled with painful circumstances. Even in her advanced years, she had not given up on trying to rearrange the chaos of life into something meaningful. Thus it was that our partnership was sealed. We sat in silent companionship feeling the things that the heart cannot find words to say.

I rushed to lunch the next day hoping to snag just the right seat. I settled in beside her eager for yesterday's pattern to repeat itself. I could not contain myself and breathlessly forged into one of the awkward silences that fall over tables of strangers gathered for large meetings. Without ceremony, I blurted, “I'd like you to know something. No one is obsolete when they have a heart like yours.”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Her eyebrows lifted in genuine surprise. Others at the table listened more closely than before. “Yesterday you told us about the way you host lunches for young mothers and children. In my experience, seniors often feel as if they are 'done' with that season. It's hard to get senior volunteers for church nurseries much less have them invite a young family home. I can speak to how invaluable you are to lonely young women whose husbands have busy careers and whose families are far away. You will never be obsolete as long as you tackle the messy business of caring for young families. They may not think to tell you, so I will....thank you. Thank you for what you do for them.”

Her impassive expression melted away as the sunshine of an unguarded smile warmed her face. She sat and let my words sink in as if unaccustomed to being noticed much less affirmed. Again we sat in silent companionship knowing there were no words to say what the heart could only feel. I clasped her hand for a moment and said a silent prayer that I would do just as she has in the days to come.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My friends used to chuckle at the poem “Warning: When I am Old, I Shall Wear Purple”. Even tho' we were still young enough that our purple wearing days seemed far removed, I shuddered while they chuckled.

A few days ago, I chuckled when a Facebook status update began, “Dear Old People....” and concluded with the cheeky young fella's wish that folks his grandparent's age not slow him down in traffic. Ignorance is bliss when you do not see the future coming. By the time you do, you will wonder how you became the one with the plodding gait and the hesitant hand at the wheel of the car.

When I am old, I shall invite the young ones and their mothers over to play...and ask that they wear purple. I will look off into space and see a time and place that only I can see. I will remember the friend I met in passing and hope that she remembers me. I will hope that on a day when I feel invisible and obsolete, I will be as brave as she has been.

Courtesy B. Creasy

Psalm 71:18 (American King James Version)
Now also when I am old and gray headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed your strength to this generation, and your power to every one that is to come.


  1. Oh my goodness... Seriously! You are such a great writer. You can really paint a picture and I enjoy reading your blog. On the subject of "older people". I LOVE them! I have worked in nursing homes and I have friends of All ages, but the seasoned ones have the most to offer when it comes to wisdom, love, and truth ... And wisdom is a priceless thing.

    Anytime I am around anyone who is older, I say very little and listen a whole lot!

  2. If my stories are half as beautiful as your pictures, I have accomplished an amazing feat! Warning: you may receive an invite and the request to wear purple! ;-) Just sayin' they say....

  3. We are all on an unstoppable conveyor belt to old age. I am working to embrace the curmudgeon within.

  4. You do weave a tail with quite a bit of talent! Entertaining to read and always gives me something to ponder.

  5. Beautifully stated. Thought provoking. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Don...shhh! I'm trying to remain blissfully ignorant! To that end, I have even thrown away all my purple crayons!!

  7. Christy, thank you for the kind compliment. Friday night I read the post I had underway to my husband and asked, "Does this feel as good to your ears as it does to my fingers?" Glad to know you found this one comment-worthy!

  8. Kristi, I am humbled by high praise from a busy, busy fellow writer! I want to be busy like you when I grow up...and before I wear purple! ;