Sunday, December 12, 2010

If you visit me when I'm old, please remind me to smile.

I had the privilege this weekend to visit a seniors housing facility. I call it a privilege because observing people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond is incredibly interesting.

People that age don't naturally look happy. I realize there is that whole elasticity thing where our skin sags and our eyes droop a little more with every passing year, so some of it you simply can't help. But while wisdom comes with age, so does the realization that we're falling apart.

One body part at a time, sometimes two.

I observe the elderly woman in a wheelchair with a white board up against her nose in order to read the instructions from her caregiver. Obviously her hearing and sight isn't what it used to be.

And even though the physical ailments grab my attention initially, it isn't long and I'm enthralled by the social activity.

Or the lack thereof.

Six women, all lined up side to side - some in wheelchairs, others with walkers and a few with just a cane. Their formation reminded me of the stereotypical cheerleading squad. Was this the old widow's version of a 'clique'? I was fascinated!

They didn't speak a word to one another. Even as I smiled at them, there wasn't a single movement of a facial muscle to acknowledge the pleasantry.

But they were lookin' fine. They were all dolled up - the way old people get when they finally have a chance to leave their room for something special.

They stand together like the front line of an army - piercing the room as if to say, "Watch out. Here we come."

I can't help but wonder if there are a handful of other women around the home coveting a spot within that band of babes. Do we revert back to junior high tendencies when we inch closer to the century mark?

My gaze drifts to a daughter who has come to spend the day with her aging mother. The resemblance is uncanny. Just fast forward 30 years and this daughter is easily peering at her own image. The mother takes the daughter's cell phone to make a call.

It's a sight to behold. It's odd, yet fun, to see someone that old holding a cell phone. I feel like I should run for a rotary dial plate.

But it's not long and she's connected...speaking so loudy it would be uncomfortable anywhere else. But not here.

Even with the amplified volume, very few people seem to notice.

But finally, the best picture of the day was smack dab in the middle of the entire party: an elderly couple snuggled together on a sofa.

They don't say a word to each other.

They, too, have stoic frowns stamped on their faces.

And yet they don't look unhappy. They look content.

And maybe that's the secret.

Let's face it. These people don't have their health. They no longer have the home they raised families in. Many no longer have their spouse.

But they seem more content than this frazzled mom of three, trying to keep on top of homework, art classes, housecleaning and my own work demands.

And for a moment, I'm a little envious.

There are no little kids tugging at their pant leg screaming for attention while they attempt to make a meal that is slightly healthier than chicken nuggets and a juice box.

There are no bosses or co-workers to put demands on their time.

A trip to the grocery store doesn't require Hercules strength and agility to push a mile-long cart with a race car attachment, a battle at the checkout for suckers and gum, or stuffing a parka-puffed child into a car seat.

They get to nap whenever they want.

And they have a chauffeur for every outing.

Sign me up.

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