For whatever reason, Clarence’s driver, the one who takes him to dialysis did not show up on Thursday morning. So I was called to take him in for his appointment. The trip is not a long one, it takes about 25 minutes to get him there, so I got the caravan, and off we went. I called ahead to let the head nurse know that we would be about a half hour late. Luckily the traffic was light; it was after rush hour, and we made good time. Clarence was in a talkative mood, and excited, since he was going to see his sister, soon in Orlando. He is going down for four days, and having his dialysis done there. At first I was worried that he would not be able to go, since his white blood cell count was elevated. The results came back ok, so he is cleared to go. I did mention to the doctor my worry about him getting ill while away, but the doctor assured me that his chances of getting ill are not increased by him making the trip. Besides, the main reason for him going is his knowing, that this will be the last time he will see his sister in this life. Both are old, and in poor health, so I am glad that he is able to make this trip, tiring though it may be.
When we arrived, I saw a man, who looked to be in his late 70’s, standing in front of the building, tired looking, and leaning against one of the support beams, on the small porch, that was there just before the main entrance. Clarence did not know him personally, but knew that he was one of those who start their treatment at 5 AM in the morning. After we parked and I was helping him into the building, I saw that the man was standing there with his eyes closed, indeed looking extremely tired. On the way out, I greeted him, and wished him a good morning. He opened his eyes, smiled, and returned the greeting. I introduce myself, and he in turn told me that his name was Ralph. I asked him how long he was receiving treatment, and he answered me that he was in his eighth year. He said that at first, the treatments were hard on him, but over the years he has gotten used to it, and does not mind coming in at all. He gave me another smile and said, “I never let anything get me down”, he then tapped his skull, and continued “It is all up here you know, how we either let things bother us or not”. I nodded, shook his hand and returned to the car.
As I was getting ready to drive away, I again looked at the man, but this time I saw something different. I did not see an old man leaning against a post, but a very wise human being, who through his long life has learned some valuable lessons, one that he shared with me in that moment As we talked, Ralph’s appearance started to change for me; he seemed more alive, and beautiful, animated. I no longer saw a tired old man, but a vibrant human being who loved life, and was willing to do what was necessary to keep on going. He was different because I talked to him, and in that process his deep humanity shown through, he was real, not an archetypal figure of the tired old man, but a unique human being.
In our getting to know someone, no matter how slight, there is a corresponding change in our perception. Such is the gift that others give to us, if we but are willing to spend some time, and simply try to see truly, and to listen intently. To get to the place of peace that he seemed to have arrived at, is the fruit of a lifetime, of making small, yet important decisions on how he was going to face different situations, as he came upon them.
I suppose for the majority, growing old gracefully is not an accident, but the harvest of a life lived consciously. A life were responsibility is taken for ones actions, joined with the ability to know when a wrong was done, and the ability to admit it. There are a lot of old folks who could teach us a great deal, all we have to do is watch, and listen, when the situation allows us to.