Yesterday morning brought am early morning appointment at the dentist to check out some minor tooth discomfort I have been having intermittently. Luckily it turned out to be no real concern and the appointment was short and routine. As I was checking out I could see into the lobby as a woman probably somewhere in the 85-90 year old range was signing in. Most of her hair was gone and her skin was blotched and showed marks where things had been removed numerous time. In spite of her appearance, she seemed to have arrived on her own and get around well with the help of a cane.
With my checkout business done, I came around the counter to the exit into the lobby. As I walked through the doorway the aged woman and I made direct eye contact that lasted for a second or two. I said “good morning” to her in a way she knew I meant it. The instant I spoke her eyes sparkled and on her face came a smile that was warm and kind. Driving into work after the appointment I realized how special that little moment she and I shared really was.
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to notice old people more and let them know I see them. Sometimes it is just a smile, giving them my place in line, opening a door or a simple verbal greeting, but I go out of my way to do it. Our culture has a bad habit of treating the old as if they didn’t exist. I read once what elders want most from the rest of us is to acknowledge their existence and still see value in them. I have never forgotten that.
If I was 30 years older the woman with the bright smile and sparkling eyes at my dentist’s office might have been my girlfriend, wife, friend or peer. What we shared was ever so brief but in my memory she will be recorded as a temporary friend of the shortest duration so far. I will not forget her and will be grateful always for the moment’s grace we shared.
From “The Old Stage Queen” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Back in the box by the curtains shaded,
She sits alone by the house unseen;
Her eye is dim, her cheek is faded,
She who was once the people’s queen.
The curtain rolls up, and she sees before her
A vision of beauty and youth and grace.
Ah! no wonder all hearts adore her,
Silver-throated and fair of face.
Out of her box she leans and listens;
Oh, is it with pleasure or despair
That her thin cheek pales and her dim eye glistens,
While that fresh young voice sings the grand old air?
She is back again in the Past’s bright splendor–
When life seemed worth living, and love a truth,
Ere Time had told her she must surrender
Her double dower of fame and youth.
It is she herself who stands there singing
To that sea of faces that shines and stirs;
And the cheers on cheers that go up ringing
And rousing the echoes–are hers–all hers.