Do you ever find yourself getting impatient with someone who is elderly and walking slowly ahead of you? Or maybe they are as slow as molasses in a checkout line at 5:30 pm when you are trying to get what you need to feed your family after a full day of work, and school? Maybe, they are not only old and slow but cranky as well. You find yourself judging them, right? Why do they have to shop NOW when they’re retired and could go during work hours. Can’t they move a little faster – not EVERYONE is retired after all? Yeah, I know you thought those less than nice thoughts too. I am ashamed to admit I have had them as well.
I got to step into their world a few weeks ago and I have spent some time appreciating their circumstances.
It was when my husband had his detached retina repair surgery. The morning of the surgery I had fallen and injured my feet, ankles, arches, toes and thighs making walking difficult and sitting and standing an experience in torture. Parking the car and then walking into the outpatient surgical center required an effort to breathe rather than hold my breath as I made my way to the center. When the front desk attendant saw me she wondered if I was the patient rather than my husband. Getting up and down from the chairs in the waiting room took an act of courage. Driving was actually not so bad but getting in and out of the car took a herculean effort not to scream. I did groan and moan, however. Somehow, I made it through the day and with Thad and four prescriptions I was ready to take him home.
I went to the Publix Pharmacy drive through window to drop off the scripts and told the attendant I would pick them up as soon as they were ready. The young girl asked me to wait a moment and then returned to inform us that one of the eye drops was not in stock and wouldn’t be until later the following week. I could take the prescriptions to the “other” Publix (no drive through) as they had all the medicines in stock. When asked if they could just forward the scripts to the other Publix she said they could not. It was then that I got a little testy and said I thought that today with faxes, texting, internet and their being a chain that this should not be a problem. She merely shrugged her shoulders. As I pulled way with my prescriptions still in hand and tears in my eyes, I turned to Thad and said “You know, I was good with everything that has happened today, but this – well this just puts me over the edge!”
My daughter came over to help me get Thad settled and get some much needed pillows and bolster down from the top shelf in our closet (requiring a step ladder). She dropped the prescriptions at the “other” Publix – God bless her.
After dinner, I got a text that the prescriptions were ready. I took a cane to steady me. By this time it was nearly 8 pm and the morning anti-inflammatory had worn off. My gate was slow and wobbly, my body frame bent over as I tried to remember how to properly use the cane. I made it into the pharmacy – thanking God that it was in the front of the store. When I asked the attendant why the prescriptions couldn’t have been sent from the other store, he looked at me quizzically and said “Of course, they can. They just needed to complete your profile with the drugs on it and we could have filled it.” Honestly, I almost lost it for the second time, but managed to thank the man and slowly made my way back out of the store with prescriptions in my bag.
As I walked back to my car, I became aware that a man was following me closely from behind and I got nervous. Was he going to steel my purse or worse hurt me? I was already hurting, it wouldn’t take much. I suddenly felt old, ailing and vulnerable. The man passed me quickly and I realized that I was over-reacting. But it made me think, “this is how the elderly and frail feel every day of their lives.” I never gave it a thought about how someone’s day might have made them feel badly, short tempered, and scared. I only thought about me and my life and how to get through it.
That night as I climbed up into the SUV, groaning and moaning I vowed I would remember this moment the next time I was behind someone walking too slow, or sounding a little grumpy. I would patiently wait. I would look for ways to extend grace – a smile, an extra hand or an arm to hold onto as they make their way to their car.
For the second time in those few minutes I thanked God for opening my eyes to a world other than my own.
Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. Nelson Mandela