Look Closer; See

When an old lady died in the geriatric ward of a small hospital near Dundee Scotland , it was believed that she had nothing left of any value. Later, when the nurses were going through her meager possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital. This little old Scottish lady, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet:

Crabby Old Woman

What do you see, nurses. What do you see?
What are you thinking. When you’re looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles her food and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice “I do wish you’d try!”
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe?

Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet
Dreaming that soon now; a lover she’ll meet.
A bride soon at twenty; my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now, I have young of my own,
Who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn
At fifty once more, babies play round my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,
I look at the future; I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.

I’m now an old woman and nature is cruel;
Tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again, my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again.

I think of the years all too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people, open and see,
Not a crabby old woman; Look closer…see…ME!!

Dang it!  Why does that poem bring me near tears each time I read it?  Who am I feeling for?  All of us I think, young and old, for the most part we have lost the ability to prize something highly valuable.  I am uncertain how, why or exactly when American culture began to value youth as the ultimate prize and to see elderly people as mostly worn out and useless. The more age pushes me toward my elder years the more I am aware of it, for in small ways turning somewhat invisible to those much younger has begun to happen to me.

With so much experience and so much to share, it is troublesome how old people get treated like they are either not there or just in the way. Since we all don’t want to die, why is it we fear getting old so much? That question illustrates the insanity we live within today; an unanswerable paradox.

I am grateful for coming across the elder lady’s poem again.  It is a reminder to practice more consistently what I began some years ago: to try imagine an old person as they were when “my age”. This is a very imperfect way of getting my mind straight for my view of them.  I wish I did not need such a crutch. However I am glad for a way of seeing that helps me to see an elderly person as a peer; another person just like me instead of some very old person who I have so little in common with.

Resolve to be tender with the young,
compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving,
and tolerant with the weak and the wrong.
Sometime in your life you will have been all of these.
Dr. Robert H. Goddard