I was doing my grocery shopping the other day, paused at the end of an aisle to wonder what I’d forgotten, when I saw an old man, likely in his eighties, struggling with his armload of shopping. He was bent down trying to pick up a large box of chocolates, but couldn’t balance what he already carried. I saw him wobble, catch himself against the shelf, take a breath, and try again.. over and over again. I’m not sure how long he’d been trying before I noticed him.
All he carried was a large bottle of milk and a few odds and ends already in a plastic bag, but his strength and balance were failing him. Worse, I saw two people push past – one of them a member of staff – further upsetting his balance and his composure.
Before my eyes I saw him seemingly fold into himself, shrink away in fright, force a smile like it was armour against the entire world.. a world it was clear he would barely hear or see anymore.
I touched him on the shoulder when he didn’t hear me offer help. He flinched, startled and afraid.
I don’t blame him – how can I when I see how the world at large disrespects and disdains the elderly, having apparently forgotten their value to a society wholly disinterested in their past and their history.
It broke my heart, though, that an old man would be afraid of me.
He was suspicious, expecting a dupe, but I left him in charge of my shopping trolley and went to fetch him a basket. He was exactly where I left him when I came back, only seconds later, his gaze fastened to my groceries as he does his duty in protecting them for me, and I made a point to thank him for guarding it as I helped him load his milk into an easy-to-carry basket.
Yes, it felt good helping him, and yes, that should be reason enough to help someone – anyone! – in need if the very fact that you can help isn’t enough (though it bloody-well should be).
He was just a gentle old man who wanted to buy some chocolates for his friend, but even something so simple and easy to me – or you – is a great struggle when your balance is unpredictable, your joints ache, your eye sight and hearing are failing. The world is terrifying for the elderly even before you consider the belligerent youth who’ll sooner bash an old man’s head in and steal his wallet than help him across the road.
It broke my heart that he had a reason to be afraid of me, but I hope his friend enjoys the chocolates.