Into the inner thoughts of people, of folks from 19 to 90+. Through the ages, the changes, the challenges, and finally the humbleness that comes w age. But I can’t decide what I’m seeing in old age is humbleness, or defeat. There is wisdom that is what I am seeing, but there is also maybe a little bit of defeat. I live in a city and in a building running w 20 year olds who don’t look at people but their phones, uniform ally dressed in sardonic hipster skinny jeans and expensive but purposefully cheap looking sneakers, going to the next sushi joint, or the next It Thing. In this city, men have become effeminate, and women have become masculine…or maybe I’m just stuck in the Medieval Age known as someone who is middle aged.
Inside my office, a whole different world. I have seen is that starting from the age 60, there is more humility – starting by the way that they let you sit down first. They wait at the chair, let you sit down then they take a seat. It’s beautiful. It’s courtly. It’s stylistic. I have been working w World War II veterans hearing from the incredible stories, ranging from hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese where the man had to kill the Japanese because otherwise a rape would occur, to the skipper who fell out of a boat into the ocean and was rescued and by a fellow young military man who turned out to be the President of the United States, JFK. It is unreal and surreal and most of the time. What I see and hear, do and not do, feel so much like a French movie. But today I met my match. A secret, a delightful secret.
We talked about all sorts of pains, ankle pain, foot pain, L shoulder pain, R thumb pain, and I ordered enough x rays that would probably light up in all of him.
I need to measure your scars. And I need to look at your shoulders.
“Oh well, I might as well as undress,” as he took off his shirt, as the requests increased from abdomen to the chest, to the shoulder. There were many scars to be checked. But what came off had to be put back on. We had to put everything back on. It was a comedic moment. He and I tried to put the tress on his body, a super-duper body armor type of belt that went around his waist. Boy, that thing was heavy. I pulled, gripping my teeth, but I couldn’t get it back on. He pulled shaking with arthritic hands. We were comical people, at that very moment concentrating on nothing but putting the truss back on, and it was seen straight out of a French movie, of a younger woman w a soft heart but not much physical strength, and of him trying to put the truss back on. I thought about calling for the nurse but I didn’t want to because given how much effort he was giving to the task, it looked like we could do this. Like a tug of war, finally we put it back on, and it was…lopsided. But it would do. When he gets home his neighbor will help him put on the truss. His daughter wanted me to look inside his ear, because he had gotten water in it. He waved against it, motioning “Don’t fuss.” He didn’t want his daughter to be in the room when we were talking.
I asked him, maybe out of the blue. So. What do you do everyday?
He looked at me. “What can I do? Not much.” He was meticulously dressed, still with pride, w belt, with a pale shirt, with nice slacks, and a pair of moccasins. He had been a sheep and cattle rancher but he’s Basque, and looked more like a retired judge. “I’ll tell, you, it’s sad. I’m 90. It’s like I’m waiting to die. Not much there is I can do at this age, with this body, and with this dumb mind.” He looked at me as if I was the person giving him the death sentence not death itself. It made me feel responsible to lift that heaviness.
I said, “But…Sir, but, there’s got to be something! Hey!”
I said, “WHAT ABOUT A ‘LADY FRIEND’?” I asked very, very tentatively.
Oh BOY OH BOY BOY BOY !!!!
I thought I might get a response but never did I imagine, what a spontaneous, shy, genuine response of delight that sprang up in this human being. It took me by surprise.
He lit up like an understated Christmas tree but bright none the less. He said, “I’d love to have a lady friend.” His wife passed away 4 years ago, and now he’s by himself.
I said, “You might find a nice young lady, maybe she’s in her 70′s or 80′s, someone who is still young at heart, like you?”
He lit up like a boy. Such delight. Such spontaneous embarrassment in having a stranger talking about something so outrageous.
He said, “My friends tell me, Ben, you’ve got a gardener, and you’ve got a cleaning person. Your daughter brings you food everyday. All you need is a cook and a bed partner.”
I said, “Well, you keep looking. Maybe you will find a lady friend, I don’t see why not, there is nothing in your body that stops you from enjoying life a little. Life can be so wonderful, no matter what your age is.”
He asked me to keep him in mind if I come across any nice ‘young lady’ in their 80s. At that moment, he made me feel wonderful, hopeful, and just joyous about life. His desire to be with a companion and a lady friend who could bring him out of this situation of a “sad life, doing nothing except waiting to die,” filled me with such hope about everything.
On the way out, I checked his ear as his daughter asked me, and when we were rolling the wheelchair out of the room, he said almost in a whisper, “Don’t forget!” I said, “Sir, would I forget something like this? But if you beat me to it, will you drop me a note if you find a lady friend? It’s our open secret.” I imagine him, cuddling with his lady friend and enjoying some time together. This is someone who’s had a wonderful life together with his wife of decades and who is still looking to find companionship and the human touch.
Oh, what a romantic, romantic, romantic story. It makes me wonder what chances we have everyday. All our lives, we are told what to do, to live inside a box, not to make too much waves, living for other people and caring for their concerns but really? Maybe that’s why we look at tabloids. People in the tabloids seem to do what they want to do and create a new reality for them. In any event, who says that our voice can’t be the loudest voice?
Yesterday, I encountered a man who looked like the Incredible Hulk and the Evil Aladdin. He was 26, and looked macho, w very little movements in his body staring people down w his bodyguard physique. The 6’2″ 270 lb. guy who at the onset of taking of his socks for the check-up of his feet said, “Don’t be shocked. I’m my niece’s favorite uncle and she painted my toe nails. My wife was embarrassed for me because she told me you might check my feet.”
I looked down, and sure enough, his nails were painted hot pink on all 10, jaggedly done.