The other day while driving our children around to various weekend activities. We stumbled into In and Out burger for a quick bite to eat. While waiting for our order I happened to notice one of my sons had disappeared. Being the middle boy I naturally assumed he had gone off to the bathroom to wash his hands before lunch. The others had already done so, but being loyal as an old hound dog he proceeded to stay by my side until ordering was complete. (he didn’t want to leave me alone). A few minutes passed and still he had not returned. Concerned about his absence I arose from my seat to take a look around. The restaurant had filled to capacity and I was feeling very lucky we arrived in such a timely fashion. Still not making eye contact with my lost compadre, I started noticing that not only was the restaurant filled to capacity, it was filled with the elderly! Holy cow I mean filled! Had the Indian casino closed? Was this “field trip” day at the local convalescent hospital? Where busses outside unloading geriatric by the hundreds? They were everywhere? Walker toting, cane using, foot shuffling, hunch backed waddling, smelling of a fine mix of talcum powder, perfume and depends.
Being astute at observation; I found myself studying them one by one. I couldn’t help myself, something inside me wanted to take my people watching skills to the next level. Was that guy a WWII vet, had that one served in Korea? Was that lady over there a WAC (Women’s Army Corp), a school teacher or a stay at home mom. Some where together, some were single, some were in a group and some stood alone, seemingly disoriented from noise and calamity of the high intensity setting like a busy fast food chain. How many of them were still stuck mentally in their “heyday”? How many of them had assimilated into the fast paced lifestyle of today? How many had kids, grandkids, and great grandkids? How many of them had no one left due to tragedy or demise?
Some made eye contact with me as I studied them, some looked away immediately and some smiled back instantly. Some never looked at all, just blankly staring ahead at the menu and the line laid out before them. I wished for a moment I could be like the great “Mr. Spock” from Star Trek and place my hands upon their temples to form a mind meld so my curiosity could be satisfied! Who are they? What were they? Who have they become? What are they doing with their lives now? Who are they on the inside?
I sat there befuddled by all the questions swirling around inside my head, trying to grasp some form of understanding to what lies ahead for myself in thirty to forty years. Then as if God was listening to the quandary rolling around effortlessly in my brain, my questions were answered.
A group of 40 somethings from the local office building across the way strolled in for lunch and as the group of 4-5 well dressed women walked by; not one, not two, but dang near every elderly man in line leaned out, or shuffled their position to get a look at these ladies passing through the line. A few of the older ladies let loose a chuckle or two and a loving hand slap was placed upon a few of the elderly gawkers. But all took it with a smile and a giggle! It was at this moment that I realized I had the answer to who these people really were or had become. With that I coined this phrase, a phrase I have used many times before, but until this moment had not known the exact depth of its meaning.
“Behind the eyes of every old man is a young man wondering what the hell happened”
You see I had been looking at it all wrong. They were not elderly people, oh yes they were by societies definition. But in reality they were the same young, sexy, brash go getter’s from their youth, the same socialites that ruled their era, the same moms, dads, uncles, aunt’s that got up every morning and did their best to survive! The only difference was, their bodies were failing them horribly! Their minds are still young, their ideas are still young, their thought processes still provide invaluable education and knowledge. Yet no one listens, they are all thought of as old, over the hill, washed up, out of touch. But when you look into those yes, it’s still there, the light is on and shining brightly! Behind those eyes lies the young person that got them where they are today. Wishing longing for another chance to prosper and provide! When you look at them they look old, when they look in the mirror they only see the younger version of themselves.
My grandmother used to tell me; you are only as old as you feel! She followed that with; my mind feels 21! You see she understood that eventually your body gives out, but if you still have your mind, well that’s the key to eternal youth.
Lunch was enlightening and fun, I enjoyed watching them all eat and share stories, laugh, tell jokes and behave as young as their bodies would let them. It warmed my heart and I made a promise myself to keep my mind as sharp as I can for as long as I can.
As for my lost child? I found him, holding the door open for all the elderly people walking into the restaurant. Grinning, dimples showing, elderly ladies telling him how cute he was, elderly men remarking; “with a smile like that he must do well with the ladies.” He told me over lunch that he held the door for one gentlemen with a walker and afterwards, he just didn’t feel right not holding it open for them all….
Pretty sure I know which child wont allow me to be placed in a convalescent home….