Driving past an old junker yard the other day, I saw this relic fire truck behind the wire fencing. I had to stop to take a look at its beauty. Yes, rusted in some places. The paint was fading in some areas, too. The tires weren’t huge like they are on the new trucks of today, either. This fire truck didn’t have the huge lights on its top that would blind you if it passed you in the night. It certainly wasn’t all shiny and new, ready for a parade. I’d bet money (and I’m not a gambling woman) that it doesn’t have a siren system that would make you put your hands over your ears either as it passes you on the street. But I still thought it looked beautiful.
I still thought the red color shone through somehow of the days gone by when this fire engine did its work putting out fires for its town. I heard the sound of the bell on the back being rung by the fireman as the driver hurried to the fire. Yes, this little beauty worked hard in its prime and now it was just sitting in a junkyard waiting to be bought by maybe a collector (hopefully) or a museum (wishfully) before it turns to rust and decays and people forget about the old days.
Which is what people tend to do. Forget about time. Forget about the old days. Forget about the old. Forget about old folks and what they mean. Forget about the rich history they may have stored in their memories.
One of my neighbors became very ill this winter and was hospitalized, then put in a nursing home, only to be returned to his home early this summer. Prior to this, he was a very active man, driving and socializing. Now, his time is occupied only with his aides that come to him around the clock. He is in his late 80’s.
He went back into the hospital again, then came back home the other day. I happened to arrive home when I saw him sitting outside with an aide and talking with her. I couldn’t help but overhear his conversation. He was telling her about all of his neighbors, up and down the street, mentioning each one. I smiled to myself as I went into my home.
Later that evening, he was outside again with his evening aide, who was a very young woman. Only this time, he was telling her how he wanted to die. He was explaining to her that he was too old, and there was nothing left in his life to live for. He told her his family had all passed on and he was the baby of the family. How his friends had all passed, too. She became very concerned, and called her supervisor.
While she was waiting for her boss, I took a walk over to his porch. We began to talk. He told me how he’s the baby and no one is left for him. I told him I was the baby of my family, too. He looked at me and told me I must have been spoiled then. He said he was spoiled as a child. I laughed along with him, and agreed.
He told me he was old, maybe 87 or so. He said it didn’t really matter what age, anyway at this point. Then he smiled, just a tiny smile, but a fleeting smile nonetheless. The supervisor arrived.
She began asking him questions, and as I left I heard him say, “That was my neighbor. See what nice neighbors I have? They come to say hello.”
The truth of the matter is that my neighbors aren’t that nice. No one goes to say hello to this man. People say he used to be mean. I wouldn’t know. I’ve only lived in my home for two years, and I can’t say whether he is or isn’t. But I do know that I haven’t seen my neighbors visit him. And that’s a sad commentary on what our neighborhoods have become.
Maybe because I have dogs and walk them I have met people. Maybe because I take the time to wave at people and smile. Maybe because I believe everyone has something to say. Sure, not everyone is nice. But I give them a chance to be. If I find that they’re just really not nice in a moral way, then I will steer clear of them. But, sometimes, if they’re aloof, it could be shyness on their part or maybe they’re just having a bad day. Not all people are gregarious. Everyone is not outgoing.
When my brother and I were young adults, during a conversation, he told me he was envious of me. “Of what?” I said, astonished, that my big brother could be envious of something I could do. “As a matter of fact,” I said, “I’m rather jealous of you, you know…” He looked at me confused. “Of what?” he asked. “Your brains.” I said simply.
I believed my brother to be the most brilliant man. He had just graduated from Duke University on a Fellowship program. My brother just looked at me, then let out a small sigh and shook his head.
He went on to explain to me that our i.q.’s were virtually the same, I was in college at the time and why would I think such a thing? I asked him what he was envious of and he told me that I could be in an elevator that was at the top floor of a building and by the time it arrived at the bottom floor, I could have everyone in it laughing or talking about something. He said he could never talk to people the way I can.
I admonished him and told him he could. I said it starts with a smile, a gesture, a friendly look of the eyes, a simple hello. It gets easier from there.
And that’s what people in our world need to learn to do. Smile at each other. Say hello. Make others feel useful.
There are senior citizens in our world that believe they have no point living anymore. But they do. They have a wealth of history and stories to tell us. Their lives and experience can teach us so much if we would only give them our time.
So many people hurry in their daily lives and pass others by so quickly they won’t take the time to say hi to their neighbors and find out. I ask you to do that today and tomorrow and the next day. Smile at someone you don’t know. Say hello to a neighbor. Wave at them. Just like the gated fire truck waiting to die, so are many senior citizens in nursing homes and assisted-living homes.
There are programs to volunteer your time. You can donate used books. You can say hello.
For links on volunteering with seniors: http://www.dontalmostgive.org/Volunteer/Seniors.asp.