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.