Monday, August 1, 2011

Credit or Debit?

A favorite comic Pickles by Brian Crane
"What kind of gas are you putting in your car?" asked a senior citizen who pulled up on the other side of the pump I was using.  It struck me as somewhat of an odd question to ask, but I didn't give it a lot of thought and instead found myself wondering if I was older or younger than he was.  This is what I do now that I'm a senior.  My husband and I look at other golden-agers in restaurants or the mall and say to each other, "Do you think we look younger or older than they do?"  My husband usually thinks we look younger.  I usually think we look older.  Not sure if there is some profound meaning in that or not....

Back to the story:  "Regular," I replied as I continued filling my tank, trying to avoid having a heart attack as I watched the dollar amount soar.  In the meantime, out of the corner of my eye I noticed  several times the older gentleman opened the door to his car and spoke to his wife, then returned to the pump, but was still not using it.  When I finished, it occurred to me maybe I should check with him to see if his pump was working.  So I peered around the gas pump and asked if there was something wrong.  He quietly said no and mentioned he just wasn't accustomed to a pump offering three types of gas.

As I drove off it dawned on me, perhaps he actually needed some help.  Duh!!  This delayed reaction is typical of me.  Sometimes I simply don't think on the spot.  I turned into an adjacent parking lot and I could see him standing there motionless, staring at the gas pump screen.  His wife was still inside their car, impatiently banging her cane on the closed car window, trying to get his attention.  So I turned around, went back, got out of my car and asked him If I could help.  He said there were so many buttons and he must have pressed the wrong one because he couldn't get it to work.  So there we were, glaring at the screen, trying to figure out what went wrong.  I had a difficult time finding the cancel button because I didn't have my glasses on.  Big help I was!  By that time, the attendant came out and offered to assist him.  So I left.

This may be difficult for younger people to comprehend, but it is easy for many of us to get confused by a computer screen.  Credit or debit?  Pay inside or outside?  What's your zip code?  Do you want a car wash?  Do you want a receipt?  This poor elderly man was totally befuddled by it all and the "simple" task of filling a gas tank made him feel inadequate.  In his prime, he could have been a professor or CEO.  But it doesn't matter who he had been, the fact is he now no longer has the same quickness of mind.  To find himself at a stage in life where he needs help to buy gas is, I'm sure, devastating to the ego, disconcerting and discouraging.  I certainly should have been more observant and offered to assist him much sooner than I did.

By the way, I concluded he was older than me, in case you are wondering....

Little old couple "lost" in the neighborhood
It brought to mind an incident that occurred about two years ago.  My husband and I walk for exercise every day.  We live in Texas where it tends to get blistering hot in the summer, so we search for streets to walk on that have some shade trees.  One day we were standing in the middle of a neighborhood intersection talking animatedly and pointing here and there as we analyzed which street had more shade.  A younger lady in an SUV stopped and very kindly asked us if we needed some help and were we OK.  We told her we were fine, but as she drove away we quickly realized we must have looked somewhat bewildered and lost.  She probably assumed we had wandered away from the nearby nursing home.  Happily this was not the situation.  But she did exactly the right thing by noticing, being concerned and stopping to make sure.

I guess what I am trying to say is try to be alert, observant and sensitive to the circumstances surrounding elderly people.  They may need some assistance and are too embarrassed to ask.  Sometimes they feel they are in the way or being a nuisance.  There is always the risk of insulting them because they may not welcome intervention.  But if help is offered discreetly, in a caring, friendly way, it is unlikely to be interpreted as an insult.

As the Son of man on this earth, Jesus was keenly observant and saw so many things that went right over the disciples' heads.  For example, from a distance, he  noticed a grieving widow's tears as she trudged along in her son's funeral procession.  His heart went out to her.  He immediately stepped away from the massive crowd that had been following him, went right over to her, and said gently "Don't cry."  Then raised her son from the dead.

Admittedly, helping a slight, timid older man at a gas pump doesn't begin to measure up to what Jesus did.  But the point is, Jesus noticed the widow's plight and compassionately lightened her burden.  To one degree or another, we can do the same if we become aware and responsive to the needs of those of an advanced age, doing whatever it takes to help them avoid feeling inadequate, old and in the way.

The sunset of life can be beautiful....
(c) Joyce Catherwood 2011