Waiting at the stoplight, I see the man. He’s old, probably in his mid seventies. He walks slowly, pushing a walker in front of him, stopping to rest every few steps. His back is a little bent. His mouth tight. He has that look of quiet anger that so many old people have.
He’s trapped, the thought flashes in my head. There’s a person inside that has nothing to do with this sick old body. The man inside was a young man once, a middle aged man not that long ago. He stood straight and laughed and ran, had children and grandchildren. He worked, he had friends over and went to clubs and to parties and to the movies. There’s a whole life story trapped inside, a life story filled with sweet moments that have nothing to do with the anger, the weariness, the despair that a malfunctioning body brings.
I notice that he wears a ring on his finger. He’s married, then. Good. He’s not alone. Maybe he’s happier than I think he is, surrounded by children and grandchildren. Although more likely than not, his kids live far away and he gets to see his grandchildren twice a year if he’s lucky. Our culture doesn’t exactly surround aging people with love. Our culture has no time, no patience, no money for the old.
Will I be trapped someday? I can’t avoid turning this into a self-centered silent discussion. More than I am scared of death (and I am, most people are) I am scared of the loss of control that comes with aging and with a sick body. I don’t want to be trapped. Forty years old, still healthy and vibrant and very athletic, I know better than to take things for granted. I’ve seen people around me go through aging and sickness, and I know how quickly a “sick” label can be slapped on a person who was always strong and healthy.
I know. We all must age and die. No one can escape. Trapped in these bodies that are destined to perish, we are helpless against a process that we have no control over. We might as well live in the moment, do our best to keep our bodies healthy, and avoid worrying about the future, correct? Of course. But watching the old man, I can’t help but think, and worry, and feel deeply sad for him, for myself, for my loved ones, for each and every one of us.