I sit at my dining room table with a 91-year-old stranger and think the following:

I Don’t Know How To Talk

Mr. G is hard of hearing, which means I must lean in close and raise my voice if I have any hope of being heard.  But how close is too close?  And how loud is loud enough?  Am I being weird by speaking too slowly?  Am I being rude by speaking too fast? Is my enunciation too exaggerated?  Am I pausing too much?  Not enough?

This Soup Is Bland

Mr. G has informed me he is not the slightest bit hungry, so at least he’s not suffering.  But I am.  

I Am In My Prime

At the age of 47 it can be tempting to look in the mirror and focus on what is lacking—smooth skin, silky hair, a perfect figure—but what I realize with Mr. G is I am actually in my prime.  Maybe not figure-wise, as that ship sailed with the birth of my children, but compared to how I’ll look in my 90's, right now is freaking amazing. 

What’s more, my body still functions as I wish.  I tell my arms to move and they move.  I ask my legs to step and they step.  My eyes still see, my ears still hear, and my mouth still tastes this awful soup.  Every one of these is priceless and I’ve obviously forgotten to be grateful. 

My Dog Is Amazing

 Mr. Amazing himself.  (Also known as Stimpy.)

Mr. Amazing himself.  (Also known as Stimpy.)

If you’ve read my work before you’ll be familiar with the feats of my beloved dog, but on this day it feels less like exaggeration. 

Since I don't really know Mr. G I can't blithely assume we’ll hit it off, nor can I assume he’ll be glad he made the effort to climb my steps and sit at my table.  In fact, I know I’m lucky he has shown up at all, since many of the extremely aged who agree to meet eventually back-out, too overwhelmed by the unknown to meet a stranger.  Which makes sense, because for a person whose world has shrunk so dramatically meeting with me must feel extremely daunting.  Can I be trusted?  What do I want? 

So I understand I've asked a lot of Mr. G, not only to meet but also to visit my home.  Therefore, I want my dog to bridge the gap by acting as ambassador—come into this strange land, yes, but be welcomed by an animal incapable of judgment or pretense.

And that is exactly what my dog does. 

For ninety minutes he sits beside Mr. G gently taking treats from his hand and eliciting smiles of what appear to be genuine contentment.  Then, my dog quietly lies down, places his head on Mr. G’s foot and goes to sleep, utterly at ease. 

Perhaps I’m reaching here, but it feels transcendent watching them interact, as though my dog is giving Mr. G a sublime moment—a window of time where he is no longer just a 91-year-old man sitting at the table of a stranger.

I Am Mr. G

I read something recently that stuck in my head:

On this very spot…at some point in time…something happened on the patch of planet you are currently occupying.
                                                             --Katie Arnold-Ratliff

Which I suppose is just another way of saying there’s nothing new under the sun but I took it a bit further—to mean that each and every one of us has experienced love, hope, anger, passion, despair, hatred, envy—and in that way we’re all alike, bound together in the glorious experience of being human by the very things we have in common. 

I look at Mr. G at my table and I see a person who has loved, a person who has ached.  A person who has lived exquisite moments of beauty and pain, tenderness and loss, hope and regret, in the exact same ways that I have and will.  At the core we are exactly the same, Mr. G and I, despite what it may look like on the surface.

I Should Eat More Donuts

Because the more time I spend with the elderly, the more I realize there will probably come a day when I too will no longer be hungry and that would be a terrible waste of good pastries.

I Do Not Want To Be Old

This is the real kicker because it’s not like I will be given a choice—if I don’t get old then I’ll be dead and I’m not convinced that’s the better arrangement.  But as I watch my friend drive away with Mr. G, I hear this refrain pound through my head:

I do not want to be old, I do not want to be old, oh HELL no, I do not want to be old.

What I want is to remain young enough that strangers never hoist me up stairs I don’t want to climb, or hike up my pants because I forgot to tighten my belt.  I don’t want to reach the age where I will think a thought yet be unable to voice it, or forget what I’m doing, where I’m going, or who I am. 

It scares me that I might outlive my husband, that I will face the inevitable decline by myself.  It scares me even more that my children will watch.  I wish with every cell in my body to forgo the lessons of aging because it appears, at least from where I’m standing, they come at too high a cost.

And yet I remember Mr. G with my dog, the smile on his face, and I pray there will be moments like these for me too.  Moments when I feel connected, alive, encircled by this Greater thing called Life.  Those moments have always sustained me in the past, so perhaps the trick to aging is simply holding them closer—holding them tight—and recognizing them for what they are:  a beautiful gift.

 

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