A couple months ago, I was profoundly annoyed with myself. Oh, I’ve been annoyed with myself plenty since then, but this was a big one.
For a long time, I’ve had this stock comment that I share in the course of small talk about extreme weather. Say it’s blisteringly hot or dangerously cold and I’m in a taxicab and the driver and I are lamenting about how very, very bad it is outside. I frequently would share that I worried about the elderly in extreme weather like this.
I was 100% sincere. When it’s in the upper nineties or higher, when it’s negative anything, I am genuinely concerned about the eldest among us because they are vulnerable in temperatures like those. They’re often shut into their homes for long stretches because of weather that bad. Cupboards and fridges go bare; medication runs out. And if the heating or cooling system breaks, old folks can die in their homes from the weather. In America.
But what exactly, Ms. Fons, is the use of making your concern and your feelings known to a cabdriver? This, I realized with a cosmic smack, is worse than pointless. I decided that if I made that comment one more time in my life without doing something about it, I couldn’t live with myself. And I meant it.
I’ve signed up to volunteer with an organization in DC called “We Are Family.” They visit seniors, take groceries to them, check in on them in inclement weather; stuff like that. My first volunteer experience with them will be next Saturday for a grocery delivery; the Saturday after that, I’ll go on some visits. I am profoundly glad I’m going to be home for awhile so I can do this. I’ve been excited to get started but of course haven’t been home.
Old people used to terrify me. While in the process of ruining his life, my father worked at a particularly depressing, shabby nursing home in Winterset and made us visit his “friends” at that terrible place. Going to a nursing home is traumatic for any person I’ve ever met who went to one as a kid. They’re startling, confusing places for children. When Alzheimers patients scream babble to no one — or to the child directly — they’re pure nightmare.
But I’m over it. We’re all temporarily young. And I’ma say it: our culture seems to be awfully good at putting our elderly out to pasture. I’m finding it increasingly untenable that this is the case. How have I only now realized that there is a universe of solid advice and great stories via people who have so been there? I just have to ask. And can you imagine being old and lonesome, just watching TV all day while that advice and those stories get dustier and dustier, utterly unused? Nightmare, indeed.
Yo, Fons! Less blithe, passing commentary; more fix.