It was remarkably quiet on the beach the other day. The quiet time was logical because most of the tourists had gone home, so the ocean’s shore clearly demonstrated the beautiful place I call home.
I was not alone on this particular morning. All around me were men and women enjoying the same serenity I was enjoying. Having benches along the beach at York, Maine makes it especially special this time of year. Since I’ve been living here the past four decades a memory popped into my mind. Years before I remember sitting next to an elderly gentleman whose white ashen skin probably hasn’t seen the sun in a long time.
He looked frail and after I sat down next to him he appeared anxious. After a few moments it was obvious I did make him feel uncomfortable because he leaned toward his side of the bench as far away from me as possible. Maybe he was afraid of me. I decided to talk with this gentleman, so I could at least try to calm him down. He wouldn’t even look at me. He just stared straight ahead and in his mind’s eye I am sure I didn’t even exist. Or did he believe he didn’t exist.
I remember asking myself why won’t the old talk to us. Why is it so hard for them to explain their years of experience to those of us who try not to make the mistakes of those who lived before? Why is it so difficult for them to look into our eyes and explain how they got to become so old? To paraphrase Harry Truman, “There is nothing new in this world. Only the time that is not remembered.”
I also remember working up the courage to talk to this elderly gentleman. He became so uncomfortable when I approached. In fact, he looked as though he wanted to disappear into his supposedly perfectly kept world. Even as I tried to smile my broadest smile and act as friendly as I could, he still looked away from me.
Had this old man been so badly treated by those who were younger he insisted on keeping his distance from all who approached him? Or was he afraid I might think he is unnecessary because of his age? Doesn’t the aged realize they should be both admired and revered because of their years? Doesn’t everyone realize what the old has to offer?
I looked over again at the elderly gentleman who was sitting beside me. I wanted to attempt another conversation but decided against it. I didn’t want to make him more uncomfortable than he already was. In years past, I wouldn’t have bothered attempting to strike up any conversation with someone that old. I guess I was too interested in my success in society instead of a success in life.
This, more than any other reason, is why I yearn to communicate with those who have survived their years? I believe if all of us would take the time to learn from the aged we could learn to live a fuller life. A classic adage is that youth is wasted on the young. I pray that the wisdom of the elderly is not wasted and thus lost on the old.
As I was contemplating my memories a young man sat next to me. At first he just started into the ocean but then he decided to talk to me. How dare this young stranger bother me when all I wanted to do was be left alone. I moved closer to my edge of the bench hoping this would be hint enough to have him understand I didn’t want to talk with him.
Why should he bother? He wasn’t interested in anything I could tell him. He had a phone in his hand and was dressed well that clearly demonstrated he was succeeding in life. He didn’t need any advice from someone who survived his years. Why should I bother tell him things that would help him survive his years? I survived them. Good luck with his.
I finally decided it was his time to leave. He sat there for a while contemplating things I couldn’t care less about. A few minutes later he decided it was his time to leave. As he walked back to his car I wondered if he asked himself why won’t the old talk to us?
Why don’t our elders want to tell us what to do? by Jim Fabiano.
Jim Fabiano, a teacher and writer who lives in York, is a past recipient of the Maine Press Association’s award for Best Weekly Column. You can E-mail Jim at: firstname.lastname@example.org