The old man stood at the checker’s station in my grocery store. The line behind him stretched out for a half-dozen people.
He’d bought a few things, but the process of paying for it was taking forever. He fumbled around in his pocket for his wallet, then struggled with it in search of his debit card, and only with the checker’s help was he able to insert it into the machine and complete the transaction. In the process, he flirted with the lady behind him, the one just ahead of me, and made friendly comments to anyone else who might be overhearing this.
I was interested to see both the checker and the woman customer were patient with him.
When he finished, the man seemed in no hurry to pick up his purchase and move out of the way for the next customer. He looked at the line forming behind him and muttered something about being 82 years old, as though this were an achievement for which he was being honored.
You will not believe this since I’m writing about it, but I was not impatient with him, and said nothing to anyone. I did not roll my eyes, did not react, but sent up a quick prayer for him.
But I was warned.
“There,” everything inside me shouted, “is how you do not want to be when you get old.”
I smile at that. “When I get old.” I’m only six years behind that fellow. So, am I old yet? And when will I know?
Last week when a woman my age was injured in a traffic accident, the local newspaper announced “Elderly woman victim of hit and run.” Elderly? She was only 76. But, the writer of that choice morsel of the editor’s art, no doubt, was a whipper-snapper the age of my grandchildren. He/she will learn in time. If they’re lucky.
Not everyone is blessed to live into these higher numbers. To survive into the sunset years. The golden age. To “play the back nine,” as Professor Dan Crawford puts it.
This week, when I address the seniors a three-county area around Monticello, Mississippi, I will begin with something like:: “I’ve driven up from New Orleans this morning to congratulate you on the two greatest blessings of your life: One, you are saved. You are born again, your name is written in the Book of Life. You are going to Heaven. And two, you are old.”
They will laugh.
I will say, “Now, you don’t think of that as a blessing, but it is. Most of us have had friends who would have given all they owned to have seen their children grow into adults, to have given their daughter in marriage, to have held their grandbabies in their arms. And not only have many in this room done those very things, some of us have seen our grandchildren grow into adulthood. And some of you have even been privileged to hold your great-grandchildren in your arms. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
But that’s no excuse for expecting the world to congratulate us on having not died. It wasn’t exactly something we did, but rather something God chose to do for us.
When I got to the checker with my groceries, the clerk–a grandmother herself–said, “That poor old man. He’s so lonely.” I said, “Lonely?” “Yes. He comes in here every day and buys something just to have someone to talk with.”
If I had my choice, which of course I may not, I would choose in my old age not to be lonely, not to get in people’s way, not to be senile, not to flirt with younger women, and not to expect people to be impressed that I haven’t died yet.
But, if the Lord chooses–the choice is always His, of course–not to grant those desires of my heart, I would hope He will surround me with patient people, generous friends, kind workers, and indulgent neighbors.
God bless that old man. If I see him again, I’ll try to be aware and kind to him.
But I’m going to do all I can not to be him.
I hope that’s not unkind.
I’m remembering a bumper sticker from our years in the Carolinas. “When I get old, I’m going to retire and move up north and drive slowly in the left lane.”
Maybe it’s a universal thing, I don’t know.
I pray the Lord will grant me a sense of humor in my sunset years, then give me special wisdom on when to rein it in as well as when to turn it loose and let it all hang out.