The cycle of life begins with childish and ends with childlike—that’s what Mama said. Now that I am 73, I frequently encounter others who learned this point of view.
I recently flew to Dallas. Preboarding allowed me more than enough time to fight my small suitcase into the overhead bin and then wrestle with the its no-longer-easy-to-manage seat belt and buckle. I had shuffled down the jetway en route to row eight, used up my meager supply of energy on the bout with the luggage, and plunked into the seat, concealing the seat belt — no flight attendant, medical professional or vacationing first responder offered to help. How does an aging man who is fighting Parkinson’s extract that belt and then get the clasp open?
When I had finally buckled up, one man nearby offered an editorial. I would have titled it, “Why Senior Citizens Should Not Travel Alone!” I was not encouraged by his brand of help.
Deplaning was equally memorable. In sharp contrast to the difficulties of getting on and buckling up, a tall, muscular 20-something man whisked my feather-light-for-him bag from the bin. He asked if the young lady by my side was my wife — a goofy question that elicits laughter and pleasant memories from each seasoned traveler — and if we were traveling together.
He was courtly in his manner: “May I offer you some assistance?” and “Need some help?” seemed low-brow by comparison. He and two young men traveling with him took all our bags.
I followed slowly, delaying over a hundred younger and quicker passengers. The senior flight attendant only had eyes for me.
“Do you need a wheel chair?”
“Did you come in a wheel chair?”
“No, I walked on.”
“Do you have a pacemaker?”
One more salvo: “Do you think you can get off without stumbling and falling?”
“I certainly hope so!”
If I have reached the childlike phase — an assessment I strongly disagree with — I don’t think the flight attendant handled my exit well. What if during the flight she had asked, softly enough only I could hear it, “Our team wants to offer excellent service to every senior citizen on board. We can encourage other passengers to help with luggage. We have wheel chairs for some and an arm to hold onto if you want to walk. As you know, everyone is in a hurry, the aisle is narrow and the jet way doesn’t always line up perfectly. How can we make your exit safe and easy?”
Despite my age, I am not a child and I do not enjoy people who ignore my struggle or comment in a condescending manner. A friendly question is more likely to lighten my load and to increase my speed.
“Those seat belts are a challenge. Why don’t you pull the strap out and then I’ll fasten the seat belt?” That would be genuinely helpful.
Some elderly patients are childlike; others are childish. Please insert a different filter when you encounter the rest of us. The cycle of life should start with childlike and end with legacy, even though the delivery package is wrinkled and the gait is dial up, not high speed.
Since retiring four years ago, 73-year-old Kansas State University graduate Louie Kaupp has published a book, The Last Dad, volunteered extensively for two churches and worked for two businesses as a human resources consultant. In November he will become the chaplain for several hospices. To contact him, email email@example.com.