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Listening

06/10/2014 @ 7:05am

Did you see the news story about the 89-year-old guy in England who wanted to attend the D-Day Memorial Services in Normandy?  The staff at the nursing home where he lived told him no.

So, he put on his best suit, pinned all his medals to his chest, sneaked out the door, and hitchhiked to France.

My first thought was to wonder how long he had to wait for a ride.

I’m guessing an old guy in a suit full of medals, standing by the side of the road with his thumb out and holding a sign saying “Normandy” probably didn’t wait very long.

My next thought was, “What the hell were they thinking?”

I know a few 89-year-olds. I’ve never thought there was much point in trying to tell them what to do or, more importantly, what they can’t do.

One particular lady I know quite well, who happens to be in roughly that age bracket, has been unwilling to stop gardening on her hands and knees, despite a new hip and a very troubled back. If I can’t stop someone from pulling weeds, I think trying to keep an old vet from paying his respects to absent companions was pretty fruitless.

I think they probably just didn’t know what they were dealing with.

I’ve always thought that age-separated housing was a big mistake, assuming it was a pity for old folks to not have young ones around them. Instead, maybe the biggest problem is that young people don’t have a chance to learn what the old ones have to teach. I’ve often thought that the time I spent sitting quietly listening to elderly people talk was worth a year or two in graduate school. That doesn’t mean I didn’t hear a certain amount of nonsense, but I bet I’d have heard some nonsense in graduate school, too.

I remember lurking in another room listening to a guy talk about being on a church board where the pastor had gone badly off the rails.

“If I saw him walk on water,” Bob said, “I’d say, look at the SOB, he’s scared to swim.” It was a lesson in how there are times you can’t help but lose your sense of perspective, and you just need to admit it and move on.

When I’m fretting about money, I think about an old guy named Wally who, when asked whether he could afford to pay his doctor bills, said, “Edie and I can afford anything we want. We just don’t want much.”  Whenever I see someone who’s just an ocean of want, surrounded with piles of stuff they don’t need, I think they’ve never had a Wally in their life.

When I was in my late 20s and feeling the weight of mortgages and fatherhood, I whined a little to a guy named Glenn who was a World War II vet who didn’t make it to his late 80s. He said, “I’ve always thought that any day above dirt was a good one.” He smiled as he said it, but I’m guessing he was thinking a guy in his late-20s with a nice wife and three nice kids probably didn’t have anything to whine about.

The staff at the nursing home in England who tried to tell the old guy what to do must spend a lot of time around old people, but I gotta say, they must not be paying attention.


Copyright 2013 Brent Olson

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