The Age of Invisibility
Today I noticed something enough to write about it. I was at the store and I noticed older people, in their senior years with their heads down. As if apologizing for being in the way, at the store. They are slower in the checkout. Sometimes they can’t reach the items. And they are old. Like it’s a bad thing.
On Veteran’s day I saw some oldsters out with their platoon hats on, it was their day. They probably waited all year to present themselves in that hat to the public. I wonder how many people stopped and told them “Thank you for your service.” Let alone ask them about their experience. Let them share their hey day with us.
We (the younger set) walk the store with our heads up, vibrant, on a mission. Us with our smooth skin, meander through the makeup aisle wondering about the next eyeshadow blend, the newest lip gloss. As if that is important. We have full use of our bodies, we can walk fast, our minds are sharp and we can handle the self scan checkout systems, no problem. We use our ATM cards and remember our pin. We get annoyed when they write a check. And have a coupon.
I want to point out right here that the little exchange at the checkout, while you are in a hurry, and they purposely got in the line of their favorite checker who is friendliest to them, could possibly could be the only human interaction that they have that day. Or week.
They got up early and primped their aged skin as best they could. A little rouge to cover up the lack of sunshine. They had their hair done yesterday and put a cap on last night so it would keep for their weekly trip to the store. They ate a light breakfast, only one cup of coffee, because they don’t want to have to use the restroom with it’s fancy schmancy turn on by itself faucets and towel holders that are so complicated or those weird air dryer machines that are called a knife. This trip is a multi hour planning ordeal. They caught a bus, or maybe drove- (which is probably pretty scary with so many of us on the roads, zipping around each other and ALWAYS in such a hurry).
They arrive and the contents of the store have been rearranged, and everything is so high priced they have to make decisions about what to buy or if they need the medicine this time. They keep their head down, on a mission, trying not to bother anyone or be in the way. They hurry through the line with the hard stares of the younger people with their screaming kids in the cart, trying to get home for naptime. They are rushed and it is over-they have had their outing for the day/week/month.
A few weeks ago, I saw a woman trying to help her husband out of a car and into a wheelchair. She was a smaller woman, the husband much larger although now frail. I asked if I could help her. She politely said no, as if this was her duty, what she had signed up for and she would handle it, come hell or high water. They were out of the house and going to enjoy a McDonalds coffee together. Duty. Mixed with Love, perhaps; hopefully or just duty. With Duty comes the idea of burden for the one who needs. Again, the reinforcement that the oldsters are not needed, or trouble. It’s beyond Sad. Her proud moment of saying that she could do it, cost me too, as I wanted to help. We feel good helping others. Being there for others. I left feeling sad.
Another thing we are worried about is Pride. They are Proud and they can take care of themselves. They have outlived, outseen and outplayed this whole world, who are we to help them?
We live on a double edged sword of wanting to help each other but not wanting to impose. Not wanting to bring attention to the fact that some things just aren’t as easy as they used to be. Acknowledging that is serious business.
I met a woman named Margaret. Margaret was my grandmother’s name, whom I loved dearly. She died at 90, a wonderful, amazing and real woman. I automatically had compassion and an interest in Margaret. I was selling carpet in a flooring store when she came in with her daughter. Her daughter was a little older than me and her Mom Margaret must have been in her late 80’s. Such a sweet little old lady. She was nervous, it was her first purchase since her husband died and she was wondering how it would all work, her furniture needed to be moved, her photos in frames, everything. I remember her worrying about how she was going to pay, finally settling in to using some of her savings for the project.
When she came in, she smiled at me, her eyes watery with nerves; and she asked me if it would be ok. I don’t know who reached for whose hand, but I held her hand and gave it a tiny little squeeze to let her know if would be ok and then we just stood there, and I didn’t want to let go, and she didn’t want to let go. Her little hand nestled into mine took me back to holding my grandmother’s hand that last time. Soft with wrinkles. Such a comfort.
We need to realize that we have right now an unending supply of adoptive grandparents waiting to be seen and adopted.
Our society has become a place where we ignore each other. Partly, because we feel useless to change that person’s circumstance. There isn’t a way yet to fix “old”. Loving people, if we acknowledge them and see them; requires giving, and perhaps a commitment from us to make a difference. And we’re busy. So, busy with our stuff. Busy with our kid’s stuff and work and everything to keep a house going or to stay above water and off the streets ourselves.
I wonder what would happen if we started seeing each other. Really looking into the eyes of an older person and asked about their life. Think of the riches that lie there, the wisdom. What they have seen, heard, lived. What can they teach us? The cultures where they honor and seek out the wisdom of the elders have something.
And I can’t unsee them, and you can’t unread this. It’s out there.
The least we can do is smile.