I believe in the dwindling generation that some people call our greatest and others simply call “old people.” True, some of them may shuffle when they walk or need their driver’s licenses revoked, but some of my most treasured friends have been recruited from amongst their stoop-shouldered ranks.
I didn’t grow up fearing the elderly. A great-grandmother I can only vaguely remember baked apples filled with warmth, kindness and raisins, and graciously surveyed my clumsy kindergarten artwork. Until I left home I chuckled daily with her daughter, my grandmother, as we searched for silver linings to the clouds of embarrassment. We share a lack of athletic prowess and an awkwardness that once led her to trip down a flight of stairs in front of handsome GI she would have liked to impress, and me to bowl a 21 despite friendly efforts to cheat on my behalf. Years really don’t destroy what human beings have in common.
I marvel at my wise, patient and bright-eyed friends. They have worked hard, done without, and thanked God for the things they were given. They are simple people who split their infinitives, mispronounce for and nuclear, have lost digits in farm-related accidents, and know what it means to be neighborly. They have pinched pennies to buy their children and grandchildren the things they never had, whether they ought to or not. They faced terror and disillusionment in order to paste snapshots of fallen comrades and a genuine swastika armband in their scrapbooks. Many of them are lonely.
They leave a void when they’re gone, but I don’t mind the part of their funerals where you learn that Ruth once chased Max out of her store with a broom for attempting to usher livestock in, and Ephraim was fond of quipping that, “You ain’t never lived ’till you’ve kept a fat, drunk lady on her horse.”
I believe in holding doors open for them, helping them with their groceries, and listening attentively while they brag about long-absent grandchildren and reminisce about the good old days. Someday, I would like to model more than the physical effects of their aging. I hope that I too will have the courage and humility to smile at everyone I meet, and the sense to know what’s really worth worrying about.