An elderly couple sat in the middle of the food court in the enormous, bustling shopping centre. Around them families with bands of children were unloading food out of McDonald’s bags or distributing onto smaller plates mounds of food from Chinese all you can eat buffets.
The elderly couple seemed out of place, like animals drawn to an unfamiliar watering hole.
As I walked past I saw the man spill hot soup onto his hand. His hands shook so severely that he couldn’t wipe it off. His wife reached across the table and held a napkin over his hand, unable to hold it still but pressing the paper into his shuddering palm.
There was something tragic about it. It was beautiful, though, because his hand was wrapped in hers. Beautiful because there was a hand to cover his.
When I see things like that, confronting examples of the fragility of age, I don’t want to get old. Pity for the elderly wells up in me. It’s not an original reaction but it’s genuine.
I wonder whether the elderly know this—that the young pity them in their frailty—and what they think of it if they do. They might know something I don’t. They could be comfortably resigned, perhaps even content. I doubt that.
The elderly are as aware of their situation as anyone. If they resent it, who could blame them? Everyone knows a grandmother or grandfather who won’t be taken by the arm up a flight of stairs. Is it fair to extrapolate that reluctance to age?
I wonder what will happen when one of those two people dies. Suicides are committed to avoid frailty but what about when frailty meets loss?
Dealing with heartbreak and loss is never easy but when you’re young it’s almost reflexive. What would loss be like if there wasn’t a person or experience to renew your lease on life? Giving up your desire to live seems reasonable under those circumstances.