I sing at nursing homes and enjoy entertaining the elderly residents. This story below, shared by many on the internet, brings home to me what it means to be old and alone, and why I do what I do.
The author of the poem below died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town. When they were clearing out his few possessions they found this poem:
Now that old man is the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem that is being shared in every country of the world:
CRANKY OLD MAN
What do you see, nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you’re looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his 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 sock 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 boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he’ll meet.
A groom 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 man 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 woman is 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 wife is now 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 man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It’s jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man 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 cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. …. . ME!!
It is curious to me, the value we place on youth – we spend the majority of our days either celebrating our youth, fearing losing it, or mourning it when we look in the mirror and see it is gone.
We laugh and make jokes about getting older as we age, guessing that this is appropriate, that we are showing what good sports we are . . . but really it says so much about how fearful we are, and how self-depreciating.
In the grand scheme of things even a remarkably long life of over 100 years is profoundly less than a faint blip on the timeline, but then we contract it even further by truly only valuing a couple of decades within that minute blip as being acceptable. Can anyone else see the insanity in that way of thinking?
I believe that in order to live our best life we are challenged to make every moment count. Spending our days complaining about every grey hair or every laugh line and commiserating with others over their failing eyesight or bladder is just as damaging to the quality of the life we are attempting to lead as is when a young person, arrogant in their youth and vigour, treats another human being with disrespect for those same reasons.
The world once was run by the ones we now call elderly. They were the bright and intelligent movers and shakers, the healers and teachers and the melody makers. But for me, the curious thing is that we had to have learned to devalue old folks somewhere.
Possibly from them? As they commiserated and condemned and self-depreciated when they were younger? Is it possible that they are living a self-fulfilled prophesy? I believe it is so. They were, and still are, playing out their own internal paradigm.
But if we recognize and acknowledge this pattern we can change that paradigm. We have that ability. We have to change the way society (North American in particular) thinks about the elderly and how we, as human beings, value and devalue certain aspects of our lives.
We reluctantly accept the idea that as we get older we gain experience and wisdom. Most people would say, “If I knew then what I know now” or “Hindsight is 20-20.” If that is so then why in the world would we not value that experience? Instead we wake up more and more mornings and value the person in the mirror less and less.
Our actions speak so loudly not even we can hear what we are saying. We must be the change we wish to see in the world. It all begins with we . . . but most importantly, with me.
What would happen if we did not commiserate or sympathize? If we did not buy in? If we did not spout cliches like “Age is just a number” or “You are only as old as you feel?” What if we, truly,in our hearts celebrated each day as if it were our last? What would serve us best?
For me, what does serve both myself and others is acceptance . . .manifested as patience and kindness – to value our elders, treat them with respect, to truly look at the person inside (and not shy away because we know that one day that wrinkled old face will be ours), and teach our children that youth and strength should be celebrated . . but that EACH stage in life should be celebrated . . .by our example . .
THAT, to me, is a suitable and lasting legacy worthy of celebrating.