Some people are uncomfortable around old folks. I have rather an affinity for them. My work in hospice placed me in close, intimate proximity to the elderly—as the majority of my patients were older.
Even before that, I remember observing old people I encountered through my life. I’d especially study their eyes—trying to see the intelligence, humor, personality, and experience reflected there. For some reason, I’ve always been able to see them as older versions of myself—with skills, energy, physical stamina, their own kind of beauty, passion, and interesting experiences. My imagination allows me the freedom to recreate them into the way they must have looked in their youth. The common tendency in our society is just to see them as old, and all that comes with that–including their disposability.
Standing recently on the beach, I looked across the water, which has always been a spiritual experience for me. The beauty, the power of the water, the gentle breeze blowing softly through my hair, the sounds of the gulls overhead, the feel of the sun upon my skin, the smell of the salt in the air—all of it welling up within me, filling me up to overflowing with awe for a God so great that He could hold that immensity as but a drop in His hand.
It paints a pretty picture to imagine a beautiful 20-something flat-belly with cornflower eyes and long flaxen hair staring out across the ocean, her smooth, soft skin shimmering in the sunlight, her long, lithe, strong legs supporting her with the water lapping around her exquisite ankles.
Haha. I was kind of that girl once, about a million years ago. I may be forty years older and 100# heavier, but I’m the same person, and on the inside I still feel like I did when I was in my 20’s. When people see me now, do they see that girl of long ago? Or do they only see a fat, old lady with thinning hair taking up space on the beach? Perhaps they don’t even realize I’m looking out through the same eyes, feeling the same passion for life and waves and God as I did when I was young and fine. It’s not as pretty a picture, but it’s just as poignant to me.
Let me encourage you young people to try an experiment next time you find yourself sitting next to an elderly person. Instead of looking upon them as just taking up space in a world meant for the young, try to see them as a repository of rich stories, of relationships gone wrong—or right. These people were young once, too. They had dreams and hopes and aspirations. Some realized those dreams—others didn’t. But try to open the lid to see what’s inside. Remember, when they look into your face, they’re looking through the same eyes they had when they were young and fine. You just might be surprised what you find in their depths.