Into the inner thoughts of people from 19 to 105. Through the ages, the changes, the challenges, and finally the humbleness. But I can’t decide what I’m seeing in old age is humbleness or defeat.
I live in temporary exile in a city running w 20 year olds, who don’t look at people (they just like ook at their phones), who are uniformly dressed in hipster skinny jeans and expensive but purposefully cheap-looking sneakers, who are 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, there is a whole different world. I have seen is this, 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, they let you sit down, and then they take a seat. It’s beautiful. It’s courtly. It’s stylistic. They phone is never on. They take cues more instinctively. I have been working and hearing incredible stories, ranging from hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese, to the skipper who fell out of a boat into the ocean and was rescued and by a fellow naval officer who pulled him out of the water and onto the boat, to the paratroopers who jumped out of airplanes landing on the beach for the war. It is unreal and surreal and most of the time what I see and hear 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, knee pain, elbow pain, knee pain, foot pain…and I ordered enough x rays that would light up all of him but what can we do?
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 for measuring the next scar ascended from abdomen to the chest up to the shoulder. There were just too many scars to be checked.
As he undressed his shirt and the abdominal binder truss I was typing on the computer and didn’t pay attention. 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 back on him the tress – a super body armor type of belt that went around his waist. Darn it. I pulled and pull ed to try to to close the truss. But I couldn’t get it back on. He pulled and pulled, to try to close the truss around his waist but his hands were shaking with arthritic hands. We were comical people at that moment of concentrating on nothing but putting the truss back on, and it was seen straight out of a French movie. I thought about calling for the nurse but I didn’t want to because I knew my friends would be able to this with no problem and I didn’t want to get help but more I importantly, given how much effort he was giving to the task I didn’t want to think that we would fail. It looked like we could do this. Like a tug of war, we finally put it back on, and it was…lopsided. But it would do. When he gets home his neighbor would 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 looking very annoyed, as if to say, “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 said, “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 with light complexions. He sat very straight. He 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 or maybe even death itself. It made me feel responsible to lift that heaviness.
I said, “But…but, there’s got to be something…no?” He looked at me like I was not understanding him.
I couldn’t think of anything to say. But all of the sudden a good idea came. “Hey! WHAT ABOUT A ‘LADY FRIEND’?” I asked very, very tentatively.
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, 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 got a gardener, and you got a cleaning person. You got a daughter to bring you food everyday. All you need is a cook and a bed partner.”
I said, “Well, I couldn’t agree more with your friend. Maybe you will find a lady friend, I don’t see why not. There is nothing in your body that is stopping you from enjoying life a little.”
He asked me to keep him in mind if I come across any nice ‘young lady’ in her 80’s. I wish I had a rolodex of ladies in their 80’s. In that moment, he made me feel wonderful, hopeful, and just joyous about life. On the way out, I checked his ear like 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!” I raised a finger. If you beat me to it, will you drop me a note? It’s our open secret.”
Oh, silly me. What a 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, in his case, for his daughter’s concerns even though he is now 90. 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 shouldn’t be the loudest voice?