I wonder what it is like to be old. I have always enjoyed the company of elderly people. I used to think it was because I have an old soul, but now I think it’s because I have a habit of being a pretentious snot who likes to play Scrabble. Really, I think my enjoyment has something to do with the secret, magical way the old-and-wise of our communities can look into our souls, even as we avoid their eyes. After many years of life, they know what it is to be many kinds of human, and are much less afraid of confronting those versions of selfhood.
We (people younger than “old”) are a little less forgiving than old people. (Is that even an okay thing to call them? If I was old, I could probably get away with it because people would just laugh it off and say I am senile and blunt. Some may even appreciate it as honesty. When you’re younger than the middle-aged conglomerate, though, it tends to be considered “rude” instead.) We are not comfortable looking into decaying eyes to see our futures and, frankly, more decay. As though decay is all that exists when you age. I’ve read that we are uncomfortable looking in the faces of those who remind us of our own mortality.
So, I guess I find it ironic that my elders (from now on, “elders” means that middle-aged group I mentioned and “old people” is everyone older than that) would coerce me into going to visit my grandparents – and everyone else’s grandparents – at The Home so that I, in all of my unassuming youth, could look into the eyes of the old people and “bring them joy.” As though my 6-year-old company were all that an old person would ever need. Like my youth would negate their age, somehow, so that the rest of society could finally bear to see them again. And the whole time I was visiting my grandparents, my elders would cautiously avoid contact with the old people and with anything real, lest they contract The Disease of eventual death, too. My heroes, the elders, used me as an ultimate weapon against old people and their own mortality, and I just thought that they brought me along because they knew how much I liked playing Scrabble.
What’s even weirder (yes, weirder), is that the old people – the ones who are supposed to be senile and honest – knew that this was happening, that their children were avoiding real contact and using actual children as social weapons, and said nothing about it! So much for blunt. It seems that they knew their words would be dismissed and so spared everyone the trouble by taking 6-year-old me for what I was worth and enjoying that time.
Now, sure, I bet my grandmother truly enjoyed my cuteness (so much cuteness), and my youth, and the fact that she would live on forever in me, and whatever else we say about old peoples’ feelings about children. That’s not quite the point. Actually, that’s not even remotely the point. I don’t think that grandparents can’t or don’t enjoy their grandchildren. I think they enjoy their grandchildren and also need more than 6-year-olds to have a community. I think they need people of all ages, younger and older than themselves, to share in their love. And, honestly, we need them. We know we do; we say we do. But, that need is often masked by the overwhelming aroma of death, and we are so scared of it; like a good hug may be what we need, but not if we catch The Disease.
So, I wonder what it is like to be old because my society is too afraid to just ask an old person. I am too afraid to ask. And I have had enough of the fear. It has not saved me from anything – death is still ever-closer as I go on day-after-day. Fear has only prevented what could be, what should be, and what still may be life-giving and fulfilling relationship with more people who really see me. I will not look away, I will embrace them. This battle is not with the old people or with myself; it is not even with my society. It is with fear and the whole realm of life that fear extends from. I will fight using my love and using theirs. Each time we fight, that love will grow and become an even greater weapon. I think I will start with a good Scrabble game. Send an old person my way if you know one, and come along, too, if you’d like.