In 2007, my father, Dr. Connor, who was 92 years old at the time said, “Rita, enjoy this time in your life because people stop listening to you or taking note of what you say when you’re in your 70s and older.” I said, “No – that’s not true, dad. Don’t people still give you attention, validation and honor for your knowledge and wisdom?” He said, “No – when you’re an Old Crock like me – the “Golden Years” definitely aren’t so golden!”
His once athletic body had been slowly breaking down, and he’d been losing his eyesight. Along with that, he had lost his treasured independence. My mother was there with him but she had dementia, so he was really missing his best friend, Moira the love of his life. He couldn’t read any more and he struggled to keep his ever-present positive attitude. He had become discouraged, as the caregiver would wheel him out to the back garden for fresh air and sunshine.
“Ya know, the old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder every day.
Old people just grow lonesome, waiting for someone to say
“Hello in there, hello.”
I got a lump in my throat the other day when my sister, Shirley, sent me the YouTube video of the song "Hello in There", written by John Prine and sung in such a heartfelt way by Bette Midler. How quickly life whizzes by.
I had passed an old Asian man that same day whose sad eyes were sunken in his weathered face. I wondered where he was born and what his life had been like. I hesitated for a moment, wanting to ask him about his life. Who was he? Where had he lived? What had he done? His face was that of a farmer. The pain in his deep brown eyes haunted me for the rest of the day.
“So if you’re walking down the street sometime.
And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Please don’t just pass ‘em by and stare
As if you didn’t care –
“Say Hello in there, hello.”
I wish I had smiled and said, “Hello there. How are you today?”
You never know. We rush past the elderly at a frenetic pace in our hustle-bustle world. What’s the rush? Why are we hurrying so much?
Once I was waiting at a bus stop in Vancouver, British Columbia with my sister, Shirley and we started chatting with a lovely, petite, elderly woman. After a while, she shared with us that she was a survivor of the Titanic. Amazing, here was one of the last living survivors of the sinking of the Titanic. She recounted her incredible experience of that historic tragedy as our jaws dropped in surprise. What other stories are we missing by rushing past older people?
In some countries I still see an enduring respect for seniors. I recall visiting a Swiss village in the Alps. The elders of the town, sat together in front of a store, one old man leaning on a cane and the townspeople would walk by, pause, showing honor and respect to their “elder statesmen” as they nodded, chatted and tipped their hats.
My dad had his wits about him till his dying day. He felt a person was never too old to realize a new goal or dream. He wrote seven books in the last 15 years of his life.
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.
It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.”
How can you rekindle the flame in someone’s inner spirit? The next time you see an older person, say “Hello in there, ” pause to take an interest in them and watch their eyes light up.