A Contrast of Elderly Men

I’ve tried to speak to an elderly man who lives around the corner and walks to the local shop most days but he doesn’t make eye contact with me at all. I always smile hopefully. He leans heavily on his stick and is slow as if in pain. He must be well into his eighties and seems so miserable and alone. I wonder if he has anyone in his life. It’s not just me that he ignores – there is another man his age that he passes by without any acknowledgment.

Elderly man number two is a darling. He has a beaming open face with a warm smile and I also see him most mornings, in fact if I miss him for a few days I start to wonder. He also has a stick because he has very bad joints. He’s very happy to talk about his ailments, he has chest problems and recently has had eye surgery and has a very tenuous hold on his sight, but he just keeps smiling. And everyone smiles back. I walked along a little way with him today and he joked with me about being late for work because we were chatting, ‘they won’t pay you’ he said.

I don’t care if I’m a few minutes late, it’s a sad world if I can’t pass the time of day with him. I know his wife dies many years ago but he spends an afternoon with a lady friend sometimes; he twinkled when he told me! This morning he also spoke to a pretty school girl who smiled back and then headed into the shop. I know they love him in there; he hangs out with the dreadlocked shop guy putting the world to rights, getting his milk and bread. Despite his physical problems he still keeps moving, he walks to town – fifteen minutes for me – even if it takes a while, he doesn’t need to rush and I suspect he chats along the way.

So I wonder why elderly man number one is so different, he could just be more reserved, I hope it’s that and nothing worse. But I also hope that I’ll be like number two when I’m getting on a bit (if I’m spared), as we sow so we reap and I really want to keep on talking with anyone who will!

None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm, Thoreau.