24 August 2009

The Soapbox (Respect Your Elders, Please)

I said when I began this blog that I wouldn't be putting up any heavy tirades. However, on my walk this morning something happened that made me want to put a rant out there. I'm preaching today, sorry :)

On my regular circuit through town, I pass by an elderly housing building. At the bus stop near this building sat a lady in a wheelchair. She obviously couldn't move, couldn't talk, and had the use of one hand to maneuver her wheelchair. She was wearing lipstick, was dressed very nicely for a summer day and had a pink headband in her hair. And, she was waiting to get on a bus, alone. As I walked by, I smiled and said hello. She couldn't say hello back but she did nod slightly. The thing that got me though was the look of surprise in her eyes. As if she was surprised that someone had even taken notice of her. When I turned away, I felt myself tear up a bit (I seem to cry easily these days) and I wondered why. Would that be me someday-trying to hold strongly onto life with no help? Why is it a surprise to someone when another person says hello? Had anyone other than the person who assisted her in preparing for the day spoken to her, prior to my few words?

Walking further I passed another elderly lady sitting on her porch. I waved to her and her face lit up when she waved back. Coming back from the walk another lady timidly stopped me to ask a question and we stood talking for 15 minutes. I remembered my grandfather, a quiet man as it was, becoming even more silent after my grandmother passed away. Did he feel so lost and empty without her that he was left with even less to say? I didn't talk to him enough (being young and stupid) and that is my only regret in my life. My hope is that we all treated him with the respect he deserved before he passed on.

I've always thought that we treat our elderly in this country with such little respect. They're a bother, they're grumpy, tired and sick. I'm ashamed to say I've said those things. But they're also people who were once young, beautiful, fun, happy, hopeful, wide-eyed and able to run and jump. They have memories and regrets and surely wish often that they could be that young person again. They're oftentimes lonely and just need to talk a little to feel better, to validate that what they have to say may still carry some weight.

So, smile and say hello. You may get a frown back but you may also find yourself listening to a story about a life you would never have known without that simple "hello". By the way, the couple in the photo above are Walter & Isabella (Robertson) Walmsley.


  1. That's so weird you should blog about this - I feel exactly the same way. We so take the elderly for granted & before too long that will be us. So many people pass by without a hello. Clyde & I are always saying this. People never pick up their heads anymore. Always looking down. I love talking to older people - they have so many interesting experiences & life journeys to talk about. If only people would stop & say hello. Sometimes all it takes is a smile - too few & far between in this cynical world that we live in. People need to open up their hearts & minds to the history of the elderly before it's too late.